By Sij Ncube
Harare, October 25, 2016 – INDEPENDENT candidate Temba Mliswa’s victory in the Norton by-election gives hope to the opposition but analysts warn of a severe backlash reminiscent of 2000 when Zanu PF unleashed untold violence after losing in the referendum ahead of crunch 2018 polls.
Mliswa trounced Zanu PF’s Ronald Chindedza, polling 8 927 votes against the latter’s 6 192 in a by-election critics say gives pointers to the 2018 elections.
In desperate attempts to bag the seat left vacant after the expulsion of Christopher Mutsvangwa, Zanu PF roped in party bigwigs including the two vice presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, to campaign for the little known Chindedza.
Analysts attribute Mliswa’s victory to myriad reasons, among them cross party support from the opposition and factionalism within Zanu PF.
A general consensus is emerging the victory gives hope on the potential benefits of a coalition of major opposition parties, aided by a fractured ruling party.
A coalition of major opposition parties backing a single candidate in each constituency and at presidential level could be part of a winning strategy against Zanu PF ahead of the 2018 polls, analysts say.
But Zanu PF is seen changing gears going in to the 2018 election as the Norton debacle is viewed as a wake-up call, indicating the ruling party needed to up its game after its controversial wins in July 2013.
Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst who teaches public management at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa, agrees the victory has emboldened the opposition but is quick to add that Zanu PF is likely to change its gears.
This, he said, would most likely entail using campaign methods like the use of violence and intimidation particularly to the rural constituency, especially considering the coming in of the Zimbabwe People First which is seen making headway in perceived Zanu PF strongholds.
“Efforts to rig the election will likely be perfected. We may draw lessons from what happened around 2000 when the NCA led pro-democracy forces defeated Zanu PF in a constitutional referendum. The violence and intimidation that was unleashed on the general populace is unparalleled,” recalled Mukonza.
“We are likely to witness a similar reaction. In this case, the Mliswa victory may actually have worked for Zanu PF; it will help them fine-tune their strategies going to 2018. I am sure right now they are busy working on a strategy to ensure that they win 2018. To that end, the opposition is urged not to relax but to work even harder in the run up to 2018.”
Vivid Gwede, a human rights defender and political analyst, concurred saying Zanu-PF is likely to get agitated and insecure with the latest developments in Norton.
While it boosts the opposition’s morale, said Gwede, it should not make them (opposition) complacent.
“If the Norton by-election was a precursor to 2018, it removed an element of surprise and alerted Zanu-PF of its crisis before the major election,” he said.
Reward Mushayabasa, a journalism lecturer turned political analyst now based in the United Kingdom, said it is tempting to suggest Mliswa’s victory was a watershed moment in Zimbabwe’s electoral history and showed what could happen if the opposition are united and rallied behind a single candidate.
Mushayabasa, however, is adamant without the current divisions and infighting within Zanu PF, it is very debatable if Mliswa would have won the Norton constituency seat.
With national elections set for on or before July 2018, Mushayabasa said, it is very unlikely that the current political topology within Zanu PF would be the same.
“It (Zanu PF) is likely to reconfigure. That is why it is important for the national opposition not to throw caution to the wind. It is imperative for the opposition to be vigilant and united in their quest for electoral reforms. Without electoral reforms and an even playing field, Zanu PF is likely to rig the 2018 elections,” said Mushayabasa, who is closely watching developments in Zimbabwe.
While Zanu PF has admitted defeat, party secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo, has intimated there was urgent need for the ruling party to cleanse “rotten areas” ahead of the 2018 polls.