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March by-elections inconsequential

14 Jan 2022 at 19:15hrs | Views
IMMEDIATELY after President Emmerson Mnangagwa proclaimed the March 2022 by-elections, he started the week by firing his State Security minister Owen Ncube in dramatic fashion. The decision stole the thunder from the impending polls and overshadowed the rising call for electoral reforms ahead of 2023 general elections.

Ncube, a controversial ministerial appointee after the 2018 elections, was relieved of his duties giving a glimpse to the Zanu-PF factionalism and realignment of power.

Though a close ally of Mnangagwa, Ncube is an intellectual midget but a man of brawn.

He is a renowned enforcer of the regime particularly in the President's home province of Midlands. The province is known for political violence and militias controlling the lucrative gold mining sector.

Unforeseen by many, the decision to fire Ncube has consolidated power in Mnangagwa. In the absence of a replacement, Mnangagwa is now getting security intelligence reports directly from the Central Intelligence Organisation.

It is not a new portfolio to Mnangagwa as he controlled the department for several years under the late former President Robert Mugabe.

The big question is: Why was Ncube booted out? Was Ncube the only senior party member involved in intra-party violence that rocked Zanu-PF's internal polls recently? The answer is in the negative.

Was Ncube the only senior leader involved in factionalism?

Where could the answer to the sacking lie? The answer could be Mnangagwa's will to control the cracks in the divided party and in particular the fractious Midlands province. It could be also that Mnangagwa, a man who is rebuilding his international image wanted to please the same.

Many of Mnangagwa's decisions since his usurping of power via a November 2017 coup can be interpreted using the international gaze theory. This theory looks into taking decisions based on how outsiders perceive you. It is the willingness to get confirmation or approval from outsiders — the Western community.

This can be rationalised by other policy positions such as re-engagement and the payment to white commercial farmers whose farms were expropriated at the turn of the century in a violent manner.

This theory can be also supported by Mnangagwa's engagement of public relations firms in the United States and foreign media outlets to clean his image.

However, the impending by-elections and the choice of candidates and the electioneering will give a better glimpse of why Mnangagwa took that decision at such an hour.

The March by-elections have been long overdue in terms of the Constitution. It is clear in our law that by-elections should be held within 90 days after a vacancy arises. It is common cause that most vacancies in the by-elections occurred more than 18 months ago.

Mnangagwa used the lame and weak argument that Zimbabwe could not hold by-elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The argument is weak because Zimbabwe's regional counterparts; South Africa, Zambia and Malawi held elections in the same period.

What will the by-elections achieve? It is clear from the onset that the elections results will not change the balance of power in both Parliament and local authorities. Zanu-PF enjoys a wide majority in Parliament that cannot be affected by the results. It also does not have sufficient numbers to alter the mayorships in the urban councils.

For the opposition, it is a time to gain bragging points — who is the real opposition? Nelson Chamisa and Douglas Mwonzora, leaders of MDC factions, are testing the waters on who has control of the opposition vote ahead of the 2023 general elections.

For Chamisa, it is time to introduce a new name for his outfit and prove that he has residual value as an opposition leader.

Mnangagwa, on the other hand, would use the by-elections to test if the electorate has been charmed by his infrastructure development projects. He has over the last three years worked on repairing and dualising roads. He has commissioned dams and will soon commission Hwange 7 and 8 electricity expansion projects.

Mnangagwa has played father Christmas, dishing out farming inputs to rural and urban households under the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme.

This is a dry run for Mnangagwa ahead of the real contest in 2023, where many analysts agree that the results will force the opposition to refashion itself after Zanu-PF changes the political landscape for the next generation.

It is also conceivable that these are the last elections before electoral boundaries are changed by the delimitation exercise. The results can, therefore, be used to shape and carve out new constituencies. The possibility of gerrymandering is real and Zanu-PF will carve out safe seats and dilute opposition strongholds.

It is clear that the opposition's calls for electoral reforms are fizzling out. To make matters worse, the particular reforms being demanded have remained hazy. To date, the opposition has not managed to table a draft Bill of the electoral amendments they seek in Parliament.

The only certainty is that  the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) will come under the spotlight from both local and foreign actors on how it handles the elections. Will public media do as Justice Tendai Mafusire ordered in a Veritas application? Will Zec  share the voters roll with parties ahead of the polls? Will posting and collation of results be credible in light of the Dexter Nduna case, where a loser sits in the National Assembly while the winner Gift Konjana is out?

Elections are an expensive process. Can parties agree that perhaps it is time Zimbabwe amends the electoral system to 100% proportional representation — a system that is equitable and saves costs because they would be no by-elections in cases where vacancies arise mid-term.

The proclamation drew the line in the sand but for now there is no excitement among the electorate. Is this a clear sign the by-elections are a non-event? The answer could only be affirmative.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

Source - NewsDay Zimbabwe
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