Mnangagwa pointed accusing fingers at members of the NPF as sponsors of the attack. The leader of the NPF, Ambrose Mutinhiri, resigned from ZANU-PF after the fall of Mugabe.
A cloud of uncertainty is over the future of Zimbabwe as the people go to the polls today to elect new leaders amid fear of violence. It is the first general election since former President Robert Mugabe lost the presidency to his former ally and vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, in a palace coup masterminded by the army.
Mugabe ruled the Southern African country for 37 years without a change of baton. Today’s elections will be a test for Zimbabweans to use a truly democratic process to elect elect their leaders. But since the dramatic ouster of Mugabe, the politics of the country has been characterised by unprecedented crisis.
The rude sack of Mugabe immediately split the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-People Front (ZANU-PF). Mugabe’s loyalists refused to recognise Mnagngwa’s government. Confident that he had the army at his back, the president eased out staunch Mugabe supporters from the party.
In the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the sudden death of the founder and leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, led to a struggle for power. The main opposition candidate in today’s election, Nelson Chamisa, 40, waded through rough waters to become the party’s standard-bearer but not without losing some party members. He is contesting the election on the platform of a seven-party coalition.
Crucial to today’s election is the Mugabe factor. Though out of power, his image still looms large across the country. His loyalists regard Mnangagwa as a thief in the night who stole the presidency. They have pitched their tent with Chamisa. Their mission is to ensure Mnangagwa is crushed in the election. They have been upbeat since the campaigns started, mobilising support for Chamisa. They storm campaign venues with T-shirts bearing the image of Mugabe even as the ex-president is not in the race.
While addressing a rally, 31-year-old parliamentary candidate and Mugabe loyalist, Phionah Riekert, reportedly said: “They removed Comrade Mugabe using military force. We should show them that the ballot box is supreme to the gun.”
She is contesting the election on the platform of the National Patriotic Front (NPF), a party formed by members of the G-40 loyal to Mugabe and his wife, Grace. Can Mugabe and his supporters uproot Mnangagwa “the Crocodile” from the Presidential Palace through their support for the opposition? The alignment of an unrepentant MDC that had been bent on removing ZANY-PF from power over the years and a dissident ZANU-PF group backed by Mugabe on one hand and an army-backed Mnangagwa on the other hand is an indication that the outcome of the election might be trigger fierce political crisis in Zimbabwe.
Already, the people are sharply factionalised along party lines and how the affairs of post-Mugabe era should be run. Mugabe’s era was full of controversies and earned the country the ire of the West. The country was isolated and it was near collapse when Mugabe was forcefully thrown out. Even as the elections hold today, the people are still confused as to whom to entrust their destiny.
In today’s elections, Zimbabweans will be electing the president, constituency members of the House of Assembly, women quota representatives in the House of Assembly, proportional vote members of the Senate and local government councillors. But the presidency will determine the future of the country.
Though there are 21 presidential candidates, public focus is on Mnangagwa and Chamisa. The two candidates are desperate in their respective bid to clinch the presidency. While Mnangagwa considers himself the ‘landlord’ and, therefore, cannot allow a defeat, Chamisa sees himself as a new generation leader who has the task of kicking out from office an usurper and a ruling party that has outlived its usefulness. Mnangagwa would have been disgraced out if he is defeated in today’s election. Similarly, Chamisa will face fierce attacks within his party if he loses the election as his ambition caused fierce pre-election crisis in the party. Thus, today’s election is more of a battle of the ‘Titians’.
The campaigns have been a source of concern to the international community and civil society organisations because of the “do-or-die” rhetoric of some campaigners. But more worrisome is the use of explosives to scare opponents. In the city of Bulawayo, there was a grenade attack on Mnangagwa’s rally. Two persons died and 41 were injured in the attack. Mnangagwa was forced to withdraw from subsequent rallies. He said that he was the target of the attack. He pointed accusing fingers at members of the NPF as sponsors of the attack. The leader of the NPF, Ambrose Mutinhiri, resigned from ZANU-PF after the fall of Mugabe.
In the countdown to the elections, opposition candidates had called for a boycott. They accused the government of intimidation and manipulation of the electoral process to favour the ruling party. Precisely, the opposition complained about the printing and storage of ballot papers, the number of ballot papers printed, the ink that would be used to confirm voting, number of polling stations, inconsistencies in the voters’ register, the vetting of personnel, government’s ploy to restrict the access of private media to information and observance of the electoral process, intimidation of rural areas and the ruling party’s use of food aid to buy votes.
The call for a boycott failed as Chamisa declined to withdraw his candidacy. He reportedly told journalists in Harare that “if the decision to boycott had been his alone, he would have opted to boycott the elections,”adding “who am I to say no to the will of the people?”
Already, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is entangled in the rift between the government and the opposition over alleges ‘assault’ on the electoral process. The opposition strongly believes ZEC has allowed itself to become a political tool of the government, an allegation it has denied.
Apparently, Chamisa expressed the feelings of the other opposition candidates when he said ZEC was “biased” and it had “thrown away the whistle to join Mnangagwa’s team.” Even then, he reportedly said he was confident of victory. “We will not allow them to get away with murder, literally and metaphorically,” he warned. He insisted that the electoral body had violated the law in its preparation for today’s elections. He was, however, silent on what he would do, if he is defeated, though he challenged ZEC to disclose the number of ballot papers it has printed and the measures taken to ensure they were secure, warning that the opposition would not accept a “fake” result.
ZEC denied the allegations made against it, insisting that it was acting within the law that established it. Curiously, in the midst of the brouhaha, ZEC chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, announced on July 18 that the body’s website was hacked and crucial information cloned. At the time, she said: “That was a serious cyber security breach. They actually cloned our site and we are in the process of doing something about it and we should have that site taken down in the course of the week.”
Reports said the alleged hacking of ZEC site was brought to light a week after ZANU-PF sent text messages to registered voters on their mobile phones seeking for votes. The country’s leading mobile phone operator, Econet, reportedly distanced itself from the bulk messages, a development that made the opposition to suspect that the electoral body was working with ZANU-PF.
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Demands by the opposition
The opposition and rights activists and local observers of Zimbabwe politics have made six demands they consider germane to the success of today’s exercise: 1) Opening up the voters’ register for scrutiny, 2) Breaking the secrecy around the ballot papers, 3) Repealing repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act designed along the colonial laws used to imprison pro-democracy activists and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), 4) Ensuring the military back off, 5) Balanced coverage from the state media and 6) Showing that ZEC is independent.
Chamisa’s manifesto was christened “New Zimbabwe Pledge for a Sustainable and Modernisation Agenda for Real Transformation (SMART).” It is premised on five pillars: 1) Smart governance, 2) Nation-building and the consensus state, 3) Smart, sustainable, shared and inclusive economy, 4) Smart
citizen rights, interests and protection, smart social justice and delivery and 5) Smart reconstruction and remodelling of the country’s infrastructure.
Chamisa said he would trim the cabinet to not more than 15 ministers. Also, he will put in place a $46 billion economy by 2022 and $100 billion by 2029. He plans to designate special cities. His government will recognise Israel and invite it to open an embassy in Harare.
But some analysts have said most of the items were plagiarised from ZANU-PF’s manifesto entitled: “Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset).”
The slogan of Mnangagwa’s campaign is: “Unite, fight corruption, develop, re-engage and create jobs.” He has pledged to shape and reshape the national body politics, its practices, democratic behaviour and electoral ethos.
Also, he will continue with the robust engagement of the international community through the consolidation of relations with other countries. At the community level, he promised to improve the people’s livelihoods by attending and vitalising the social service sector, continue to prioritise affordable education, particularly to people in rural areas.
On health, he said he would address clinics and housing, the plight of women, youths and vulnerable groups. He was confident of transforming the country to a middle-income economy by 2030.
Hope for free, fair, credible elections
A critical analysis of the events leading to today’s election shows that crisis looms across Zimbabwe. Free, fair and credible elections can only be guaranteed if the international community, particularly the regional body, the South African Development Community (SADC), the African Union, the European Union (EU), the Commonwealth, civil society organisations and other foreign election observers stand firm on their pledge to help enthrone true democratic process in Zimbabwe. Their neutrality must be transparent enough for all the candidates to trust their judgement.
They must bear in mind the potential backlash of failure in today’s exercise for the country and the region at large. SADC must live to its pledge not to “endorse a bogus election.”
Today’s election poses a challenge of credibility to the EU against the backdrop that Mugabe sent its head of election mission packing on the eve of the 2002 election.