Source: Tough lessons for opposition from Bikita | The Financial Gazette January 26, 2017
ZIMBABWE People First (ZPF) party’s drubbing by ZANU-PF in its first foray in Bikita West comes across as a hard lesson for the country’s fragile opposition ahead of future elections, analysts have indicated.
In the absence of requisite electoral reforms, ZANU-PF is seen continuing to consolidate its stranglehold on power in future by-elections, including national polls.
In the Bikita poll, the ruling party’s candidate Beauty Chabaya polled 13 156 votes against Kudawashe Gopo of ZPF, who got 2 453; while the other challengers paled into insignificance.
Analysts agree that it has been a baptism of fire for former vice president Joice Mujuru and her party which went into the weekend poll brimming with confidence.
Mujuru, fired from ZANU-PF in 2014 over a myriad of allegations she flatly denies, has been taunted as the ideal opposition leader to offer President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF their sternest test in the 2018 general elections.
As such the weekend Bikita West by-election, the first for her party after leaving the ruling party, had been seen as a harbinger of things to come.
However, it came to naught in the restive province of Masvingo on a rainy Saturday.
Mujuru now has a herculean task to convince other opposition leaders that she is the right candidate to lead the mooted grand coalition viewed as the only permanent political solution to upset President Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the 2018 crunch polls.
Analysts attribute Mujuru’s party’s thumping in Bikita West to a combination of factors: Political naivety, ZANU-PF political trickery and plain daylight robbery, charges the ruling party vehemently denies.
They have been quick to point out that the continued fragmentation of the opposition is to blame for the loss in this particular by-election that was largely characterised by violence, political intimidation and vote-buying, according to independent reports.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party refused to assist ZPF in mobilising support in Bikita West at the last minute amid allegations that they were unhappy with ZPF’s candidate, Gopo.
Apart from the ZPF candidate, there were four other participants in the by-election, occasioned by the incarceration of former ZANU-PF legislator Munyaradzi Kereke over rape charges.
The candidates crowded the electoral field for the opposition, critics noted.
Lovemore Madhuku’s National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) unsuccessfully fielded Madock Chivasa who polled 343 while Terrence Makumbo of Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe got 132.
Two independent candidates, Innocent Muzvimbiri and Heya Shoko polled 725 and 76 respectively.
But be that as it may, analysts said while ZPF could be encouraged by amassing more than 2 000 votes in a ZANU-PF rural stronghold, free and fair elections remain a pipe-dream ahead of the 2018 elections, citing alleged irregularities witnessed during the by-election, top among them the alleged assault of the NCA candidate Chivasa and his campaign manager Thomas Mudzamiri on the eve of the polls.
On its part, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which rightly or wrongly, is being accused by the opposition of being in the pocket of ZANU-PF, has said it has since ordered the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and police to submit reports on the assault of Chivasa and Mudzamiri.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development expert and political analyst, said the outcome of the Bikita West by-election, is a lesson to Mujuru and other opposition leaders that there is urgent need for electoral reforms and a coalition ahead of 2018 polls.
“Going it alone is naive and unhelpful. ZANU-PF is a well-oiled political system that plans in advance modalities to win and retain power,” said Saungweme, adding that civic organisations and the opposition had to wake up to this reality. He did not rule out rigging in the election.
But Reason Wafawarova, a political analyst with close links to ZANU-PF, said the Bikita West by-election was indeed a litmus test for Mujuru and her ZPF outfit.
“Essentially this is seen by ZANU-PF supporters as a gathering of expelled erstwhile comrades. Mujuru herself is still seen as an expelled deputy of RGM (President Robert Gabriel Mugabe), and it will be hard for her to assume any status higher than being a junior to Mugabe,” said Wafawarova.
“Like the MDC before it, ZPF will start strong in some urban areas, but will take long to gain support in rural areas.”
However, the Bikita West poll has been roundly condemned by civil society organisations.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) said in its report on the by-election that there were a significant number of assisted voters recorded, mostly of illiterate and elderly voters. Some of the assisted voters were, however, curiously of a relatively young age.
“The unusually high number of assisted illiterate voters is inconsistent with Zimbabwe’s high literacy rates and may be an indication of the levels of intimidation especially in rural constituencies,” reads part of the ZESN report.
The organisation also observed that the campaign period in Bikita West was characterised by political tension, threats to life, physical violence, partisan food distribution, vote-buying, abuse of the provisions for assisted voters and intimidation by traditional leaders.
On the day of the by-election ZESN received reports of voters being instructed to “register” with their village heads and party structures before and after casting their votes.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a grouping of over 300 non-governmental organisations, said it had genuine fears of violence and loss of lives in 2018 given the violence that obtained in Bikita West.
“We are concerned that the next elections could be nothing, but a costly charade with pre-determined outcomes,” it said, accusing ZANU-PF of having an overbearing influence on the operations of ZEC, adding that the party maintains an unfair advantage during elections. By Njabulo Ncube
“This is likely to continue into 2018.”