Wednesday, 4 February 2015

27 March By-Elections: Zanu Pf Factionalism Coming Full Circle.


By Takura Zhangazha*

There are two key Parliamentary by elections scheduled for 27 March 2015 in Chirumanzu-Zibagwe and Mt Darwin West constituencies.    Their ‘outgoing’ seat holders are new vice president and minister of justice, Emerson Mnangagwa and former vice president Joice Mujuru respectively.  And that is precisely what makes them politically intriguing. 

These two have been central players in the current Zanu Pf fallout. As a result, the fact that their seats were declared vacant by President Mugabe last month is significant.  

It is also an act that has raised some constitutional questions and opposition political party outcry alleging that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is unprepared to hold the by-elections. These outcries have culminated in the mainstream opposition threatening to challenge the president’s action in court.

The fact of the matter is that the by elections will have to be held in terms of the constitution and the Electoral Act. And that’s where the politics attendant to them becomes significant both for the ruling party and the mainstream opposition.

For Zanu Pf, they are obviously going to be a measurement of how deep rooted the  factional battles are at grassroots.  Especially if the faction of suspended and ‘ousted’ leaders decides to not only field candidates but also lay claim to the party name on the ballot paper. 

It is a risky business but there would be no more a greater statement of intent from the weakened Mujuru camp.  For the latter to contest as Zanu Pf there will be  court challenges and counter challenges especially for the name of the party (as was the case with the opposition MDC in the run up to the 2008 harmonised elections). 

Should they fail to actually institute a legal challenge  or to win an eventual court case, they are again faced with the dilemma of deciding to field candidates regardless.

 This would also entail seeking an overturning of the nomination court process that was recently held on the basis of the lack of an accessible voters roll To all parties.

 Moreso for Mt Darwin West which over the years has been viewed as the former vice presidents stronghold. 

And in that they may have to either chose a new party name for their candidates (highly unlikely) or follow the lead of their interparty rival s and field their candidates as independents.  This with the hope that should they manage to be brought or bring themselves back in the fold, their ‘independent’ candidates will eventually be considered Zanu Pf members of Parliament.

Any decision to not field candidates will be to the great advantage of the Mnangagwa faction. Especially from a grassroots perspective where such a decision will be at odds with claims of popular support by suspended provincial chairpersons.  Add to this the fact that the state media is poised against it, the Mujuru camp will be battered as having been the proverbial owl with no horns.

For the Mngangagwa camp, this is a test of their ability to take control of the party’s election campaign machinery without their former colleagues.  And a test of their organizational capacity to win with a decent margin against those that would claim to be more popular at grassroots level.   Even if they were to win, they cannot afford to win ‘ugly’ because that will return to haunt them in 2018. If they were to lose to their rival camp, they have to lose gracefully in order to be respectable opponents at the next general election. 

The mainstream opposition MDCs  on the other hand are bit part players in these by elections.  Whether they participate, boycott or fail to field candidates.  They would however be well advised to raise the political stakes while they still can against a divided Zanu Pf. That would entail seriously considering and preparing to participate. Not for tokenism but out of an intention to demonstrate their commitment to electoral processes and giving people alternatives, even in difficult circumstances.  That is why they are in Parliament today. 

To declare the electoral environment  not free or unfair is good media and public gallery play.  The only catch is that it is not enough of a political act.  Especially given the evident division in Zanu Pf.  Or even after all along praising the new constitution under which these by-elections are being held.

Come 27 March there will be a bit of political drama for an election weary public.  If the factions in Zanu Pf and the MDCs (and smaller political parties) all participate it will be a potential indicator of what elections in 2018 might look like.  But a lot more is at stake for Zanu Pf and how it manages its electoral campaigns with the new VP and likely presidential successor pitted against the former and perhaps still ambitious former VP. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)