Now that all candidates have been announced for the March 26 by-elections for 28 seats in the House of Assembly and 105 council seats, with all seats being contested, the campaigning will be starting and everyone wants to see the campaign, the vote and the acceptance of results being the correct dress rehearsal for next year’s general elections.
For a start, the procedure is very clear. The Constitution lays out with crystal and admiral clarity that the people choose who they want to represent their constituency in Parliament and their ward in an urban or rural district council. No one else decides, and that includes foreigners who might want the result to go a specific way and thus meddle.
So the voters need to be given the peace and space they need to exercise their right to make a choice and then put their “X” in the little box next to their preferred candidate’s name.
Campaigning can be robust, but we hope it will be on issues and records and be conducted totally peacefully.
The actual polling needs to be orderly, patient and peaceful. In the 2018 election both campaigning and polling were peaceful. The problem came after the poll and the votes had been counted. Some people thought their candidate had too few votes and took violent action.
This shows not just a lack of belief in representative democracy where the people not the street mobs decide the winner, but also a lack of logic.
Every candidate is entitled to an agent at every polling station in the constituency or ward they are contesting, and that agent can be present when the votes are counted. If a candidate does not have enough friends or committed supporters to fill the berths, then they are pretty useless and possibly should have called it a day much earlier.
Secondly, the people who staff the polling stations and count the votes are not some strange secret guard. They are us, civil servants who are exceptionally likely to vote in roughly the same proportion for each party as their neighbours.
They will do their job very professionally and exceptionally well, but no one has the faintest idea of how they marked their own secret ballot and the only fact that seems certain is that the team in a station distributed their marks among the candidates.
Nomination day was very orderly and very peaceful with the officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission very helpful and doing their level best to ensure that every candidate had filled in the nomination papers correctly, even giving them time to run off and get another signature if that was needed. This was a good start.
The one minor dispute, which arose within a small political party and drifted into a pair of court applications, was handled with aplomb.
The first court order said no nominations should be accepted for six seats, and the second said the nominations should be accepted, which meant reopening the nominations later in the week.
But at least the candidates who had been arguing went to court, rather than grabbing iron bars, and at least they and everyone else stood and saluted when the courts made their rulings, both times.
That particular legal matter is not yet finished, and that is why two orders were given.
Urgent applications to the High Court, if accepted, do not even attempt to make a final decision since only one party is physically present and so long as they make some sort of case they can get an order that does not do them damage while everyone comes back in a couple of weeks to sort out the final order, with both sides making an argument.
This particular matter appears to hinge on who may have fired who first and the position at the moment is that the nominations proceeded so the six by-elections can take place if that is the final order. Judges tend to be practical.
It needs to be noted that none of the by-elections are going to change which party has a majority in Parliament or which party runs a local authority, largely because most of the vacancies arose from internecine warfare within the opposition.
Proportions of MPs and councillors will probably change but not enough seats are up for grabs to change the fact of majorities.
What the by-elections will show, besides how mature we are as a democracy, is an indication of shifts in followings and support.
Obviously Zanu PF will be campaigning on its good record under the Second Republic, explaining what it has done and outlining the development now in progress for the next 18 months.
These days Zanu PF promises little, but likes to show concrete or concrete being poured, on the basis that a hard-headed electorate likes to see action rather than listen to words.
Presumably its candidates will also be localising both the achievements and the national planning timetables for their own constituencies and wards. Having something solid to stand for both in what has been done and what is now in actual progress is a major help.
Zanu PF has a second advantage, in that it uses primaries to select candidates. Voters can disagree with the candidate, but since the person is someone of some standing in a constituency or ward they know the person and do not have to guess.
Generally, a Zanu PF candidate has personal qualities and some sort of civic record and name recognition, as well as the party name and symbol next to their name on the ballot paper.
After the last couple of years more voters will probably want to have a good idea of just who they are electing this time rather than a person with a loud mouth aiming for riches.
The opposition have a different problem.
For much of the last two years their main achievement has been getting rid of each other, which is why so many people, particularly in Harare, have been without representation in both Parliament and the city council.
The danger, and this is particularly what might lead to violence, is that people tend to regard heresy as something to be fought strenuously.
Even now, in what are regarded as the larger opposition parties, there is a dominating trend to try to assume they can hang onto what they regard as “safe seats” and thus argue about market share, rather than discuss clear alternative visions, particularly in one case.
Some of the smaller parties do look at different clear alternatives, which have yet to generate a lot of support, but at least they are using the electoral process to create agendas, as Zanu PF itself does through its actions rather than assuming people owe it support.