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Reasons why by-elections spook Zanu-PF

10 Jan 2021 at 07:53hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE is in perpetual election mode, so there is no harm yapping on this subject even as the year is just starting and we are more than two years away from the next national polls.

The west taught us - a long time ago - that elections are the hallmark of democracy. And, when all the fireside buzz dies down, that's what most of us still believe. Never mind the fact that almost all the elections in Africa and the rest of the world are stolen or fixed out of habit. Never mind the fact, too, that those that lose elections as incumbents and have failed to rig like their luckier kith mostly refuse to go. That's what you may want to call the Trumpian syndrome.

Back to Zimbabwean elections. As you read this, there are some 40 parliamentary by-elections that are overdue, post the 2018 elections. Most of them owe to the fact that MDC-T recalled more than 30 MDC-A MPs on the confusing but clever excuse that they had defected from the former after the 2018 polls.

The courts gave that excuse some legitimacy when they ruled, so to speak, that, technically, no such party as MDC-A existed in 2018. Only MDCT, which had to go to a congress to choose another leader after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. The rest of the by-elections are due to deaths of incumbent MPs from both the ruling
Zanu-PF and the opposition.

The judicial decision left the young and popular leader of MDC-A, Nelson Chamisa, looking like a native fowl after a flood. And he is still talking and walking wet, even choosing to go for selfies with rural lizards and glowing ants at Christmas time.

Now, the law is clear on what happens when there is a vacancy in a parliamentary constituency. Fresh elections must be held within 90 days, save only where special and necessary circumstances permit to extend the period. You will remember that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) banned by-elections on March 25 last year. Their reason looked reasonable at the surface. President Emmerson Mnangagwa had just pronounced a Covid-19 national disaster and, subsequently, a lockdown that limited the movement of people so as to stem the spread of the corona virus.

But, nxa, forget that fake reasonability. That pronouncement was illegal because it was ultra vires the constitution, which says there must be regular, free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. There was no gazette to accompany the administrative policy decree as required by the law. And there was nothing then to show that banning by-elections was a legal necessity because election-related gatherings could still be managed with little worry around Covid-19.

This means that we are still living an electoral illegality as Zimbabweans. Something that ZEC seems to have realised later in 2020 when the commission said the by-elections would proceed by October 5 2020. Now, VicePresident Constantino Chiwenga is one guy who never disappoints - from coups through PhDs, to lockdowns. Just as people were preparing for the by-elections, he dropped a grenade, forgive the stubborn pun. As the new Health minister - as if being VP was not flattering enough - he pulled out a statutory instrument that, once again, banned by-elections of any nature, on the pretext that they would superspread Covid-19. This time indefinitely.

That's where we start having a big problem. If you check, dates for parliamentary elections are not set by a minister, even if that minister is also a VP. That's the prerogative of the president. Not even through a statutory instrument or subsidiary law that quarrels with the constitution. But you have already heard this mumbo jumbo from the usual cynics.

We now have a new lockdown. Coincidentally decreed by the very legend, VP Chiwenga. It will work for a month, but, from experience, that month will turn into months and before we know it, it will be next January and there will be excuses for another lockdown. What this means is that no-one knows when and if the parliamentary by-elections will be held. Not exactly surprising, though, if you mind that scores of by-elections have failed to take place since the MDC started contesting elections in the new millennium.

So, a more useful question is: Why does the Zanu-PF government seem so spooked by parliamentary by-elections, especially, after MDC-T started recalling MPs who were never theirs in the first place? There is sickening hypocrisy in this. If you ban by-elections because you want to stem the spread of Covid-19, you then need to ban everything else that is a potential super-spreader, or spreader. Parliamentary and council by-elections have been banned. That means other virus spreaders must be banned.

Well, the new lockdown has named various potential spreaders and rebanned or limited them. These include funerals, church gatherings, bashes, blah blah. The old lockdown had limited them too. But several telling things happened. Puzzlingly, despite Chiwenga's ban on by-elections as a potential spreader of the virus, some elections took place. Zanu-PF "successfully" held its district coordinating committee (DCC) meetings late last year. And MDC-T held a congress also late last year. These were party-based elections.

Someone needs to come out and tell us the exact difference between partybased elections and by-elections in the context of Covid-19. No-one will, because there is no difference. Did you see what happened at the MDC-T congress, for instance? People were not wearing masks. Some, like Thokozani Khupe, were using their masks to wipe off tears and clean their running noses the moment it became clear that foxy Douggie was running away with the stick. They were shoving and pushing. And, also ironically, President Mnangagwa hailed the congress, meaning he anointed it.

The same thing happened at the DCC elections. When people were not hugging or cuffing each other, they were swallowing ballots papers to rig the polls, or spitting at each other. No masking up, no sanitisers, no social distancing, no hussles. And, well, they were busy throwing mega-dollar parties after that. No-one is talking about that, and no-one is, of course, talking about by-elections.

It's not as if banning religious and social gatherings will harm the Zanu-PF government in any big way. But byelections will certainly injure government and the ruling party. The majority of the by-elections would be held in areas that Chamisa's MDC-A has the biggest popularity and would easily win. Zanu-PF is not exactly worried about MDC-A regaining some numbers in parliament. Those numbers would always be insignificant because Zanu-PF has an unassailable majority in parliament.

MDC-A re-wins would always smash rotten eggs in Zanu-PF's face for other reasons. If MDC-T is not a Zanu-PF project as we have been hearing, the latter clearly supports it and prefers it as an opposition party to MDC-A. If Zanu-PF supports MDC-T or has been funding it, then re-wins by MDC-A would mean wasted resources and time ill spent.

Re-wins by MDC-A in by-elections would also resurge Chamisa's party, give it a big shot of confidence once again. That would mean a new wave of pain in all the wrong places for Zanu-PF. More popular agitations, more protests, more military deployments and, going with that, more international condemnation.

Let's wrap all this up in one sentence this way. Parliamentary by-elections- especially-will give the Zanu-PF government a stronger opposition and the attending headaches, so the longer they are held at bay, the better.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on

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