The growing speculation about First Lady Grace Mugabe being considered to contest the Harare East constituency in the forthcoming by-elections is set to change the tone and hue of national politics – the shrinking of opposition space since 2000.
The Harare East by-election is one of the 13 that were triggered by the MDC-T’s recall of 21 MPs for allegedly crossing the floor in the house. The remaining 8 seats are held through proportional representation four in the National Assembly and the remainder in Senate hence there will not be nay by-elections for those eight seats. The vacancies will be filled by nominations from the MDC-T which held the seats.
It is however the 13 seats in Harare, Bulawayo and Kwekwe that will redefine the political landscape as Zanu (PF) awash with cash is seeking to prove two things; it is far from collapsing despite looming split along factional fights to succeed Robert Mugabe and to shake the tag that it is a rural party by winning seats in the supposed base of the opposition since 2000.
Zanu (PF) relies on wheeling out Grace for Harare East and possibly other emerging young turkeys who can muster support from the urban youths and still receive support from the party’s guardians. Grace since her arrival on the political scene in July 2014 has caused a seismic shift not only in Zanu PF politics but also the national political fibre.
She in a well-orchestrated political plan received support from Zanu(PF)’s Women and Youth Leagues to ascend to the politburo without opposition. Grace used her national ‘Thank You Rallies’ to fashion herself as the new kingmaker in the party when she with reckless abandon ended the political careers of among other former Vice President Joice Mujuru, Rugare Gumbo, Didymus Mutasa and nine provincial chairpersons and several ministers and deputy ministers.
However, Harare East if Grace is fielded will become her first real political contest and Zanu PF is not taking any chances. Ousted Tendai Biti had represented the constituency for the past 15 years under the banner of MDC.
Zanu (PF) knows that her defeat will crash her political career before it even starts and therefore all the party honchos will be wheeled out to campaign for her. No expenses will be spared as her victory will be more than a seat gained from the opposition but most likely allow her to be appointed to cabinet thereby putting her at the centre of national politics as Mugabe is in his political sunset.
Besides the financial resources to be poured into the campaign, the voters roll will play a pivotal role in Grace’s success. Since 1995 when Margaret Dongo successfully contested her loss of Harare South because of the defective voters roll, the opposition knows too well the devastating effect of getting into any election without an updated roll.
Derek Metasyzak of Research and Advocacy Unit in his 2013 paper highlighted how the voters roll has been used to inflate voters in seats which Zanu PF had an interest such as Mbare, Harare North and Epworth for instance. True to the research Zanu PF went on to win the five peripheral seats in the capital; Mbare, Harare south, Harare North, Epworth and Mount Pleasant. It lost Harare East marginally.
Youths in Harare and other urban areas find it difficult to register as voters as they are required to produce a litany of documents which their counterparts in peri-urban and rural constituencies are never asked. These documents include proof of residence in the form of utility bills or an affidavit from the owner of the house they reside.
If Zanu PF wheeled out Mugabe and senior government officials to assist in Auxillia Mnangagwa’s electioneering in Zibagwe Chirumanzi constituency against little known candidates then for Grace, the nation will be brought to a standstill. One cannot rule out one of her rallies being televised live while the council will be bullied to approve new projects in the affluent suburb like patching roads and allowing new housing cooperatives in the constituency all to pull the votes in Grace’s favour.
Whatever happens now it points to a Grace victory and the busting of the opposition myth that it controls urban voters. And more importantly, the opposition will have to own up for creating this ackward position of delivering political power to Grace on a silver platter.