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COUNTDOWN TO 23 AUGUST

‘Spoiler’ threatens to split Zanu-PF voters, but Mnangagwa confident he can win Zimbabwe poll

‘Spoiler’ threatens to split Zanu-PF voters, but Mnangagwa confident he can win Zimbabwe poll
From left: Former cabinet minister and Zanu-PF commissar Saviour Kasukuwere; President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa; and the country’s main political opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, are the three main challengers for the country’s top job. Elections are on 23 August. (Photos: Supplied, Jason Szenes / EPA-EFE, Aaron Ufumeli / EPA-EFE. Flag: Vecteezy)

With several contenders for president in Harare’s upcoming watershed elections, here’s how the contest is shaping up.

Battle lines have been drawn in Zim­babwe as President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces a tough poll, and a number of opposition candidates, including a former top official in his ruling Zanu-PF party, have successfully filed their nomination papers to contest for the country’s top job in general elections set for 23 August.

After denying his nemesis – the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party leader Nelson Chamisa – the chance to conduct campaign rallies freely across the country before his proclamation of the election date, Mnangagwa is now also facing stiff competition from Saviour Kasukuwere, an ally of the late former president Robert Mugabe, who will be running as an independent candidate.

Kasukuwere commanded a huge following within the rank and file of Zanu-PF during his time as the party’s political commissar, a position he held until Mugabe was removed from office. He was a kingpin of the Generation 40, commonly known as G40, the faction of the ruling party that was positioning Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed her husband. Mnangagwa’s faction, known as Lacoste, eventually pulled through after the military-assisted transition of November 2017 that deposed Mugabe.

Three-horse race

The number of candidates vying for the presidency has dropped from the 23 who participated in the disputed 2018 polls, when the majority of them performed dismally.

Other contestants are the Movement for Democratic Change leader Douglas Mwonzora, Trust Chikohora of the Zimbabwe Coalition for Peace and Development, Blessing Kasiyamhuru of the Zimbabwe Partnership for Prosperity party, Joseph Makamba Busha of the FreeZim Congress party, Wilson Harry Peters of the Democratic Opposition Party and Gwinyai Muzorewa of the United African National Council, among others who were still having problems providing proof of payment of the registration fees at the time of publication.

However, Mnangagwa’s major contender in the watershed election, according to some analysts, is Chamisa, who disputed the outcome of the 2018 polls, alleging massive electoral fraud by Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF party.

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Despite Kasukuwere vowing to win the polls and form a government of national unity, Mnangagwa and Chamisa are buoyant ahead of the election, with both predicting landslide victories, although some observers believe the surprise entrance of former cabinet minister Kasukuwere into the presidential race could spoil the party for the two protagonists and force a run-off vote. In the event that there is no outright winner in the polls, a run-off vote will be held on 3 October, according to Mnangagwa’s proclamation.

Kasukuwere, who has been forced to live in exile in South Africa since the 2017 military coup that deposed Mugabe, told reporters in Johannesburg he would return to Zimbabwe to canvass support ahead of the polls, accusing Mnangagwa and his family of state capture.

We are likely to see a descension or polarity in Zanu-PF, thus dividing the Zanu-PF electoral base between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa.

“What is at stake in the forthcoming elections is the stark choice between regeneration and elite capture of the state [and] its resources, between modernisation and regression into the past,” said Kasukuwere.

The former Zanu-PF political commissar also proposed a government of national unity if he wins the presidential race.   

Millions of Zimbabweans live in South Africa and Kasukuwere promised to hire more than 500 buses to ferry registered voters from South Africa to vote on 23 August. Vast numbers of Zimbabweans left the country after its economy went into decline because of the chaotic land reforms of Mu­gabe’s government in 2000, and others have fled political persecution.

Zanu-PF information director Tafadzwa Mugwadi told Daily Maverick that his party would win the elections by banking on developmental projects that were undertaken by the Mnangagwa administration during its five-year term.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe’s land grabs made Robert Mugabe the country’s biggest landowner

“We have been working very hard to deliver on our electoral promises and we have delivered. Zimbabweans are going to vote for Zanu-PF because they have seen what we are doing. We are going for a landslide [victory] and the people will endorse President Mnangagwa and the party,” said Mugwadi.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Kasukuwere was picking up the fight that characterised Zanu-PF before Mugabe was forced to resign. “We are likely to see a descension or polarity in Zanu-PF, thus dividing the Zanu-PF electoral base between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa.

“We might also see some of the independent voters swinging towards Kasukuwere, especially those that may not be so convinced about the politics of the CCC or Nelson Chamisa. Kasukuwere is coming into the game as a spoiler and it’s difficult to tell at this moment who is going to benefit from the spoiling of the political space that Kasuku­were is going to bring,” said Mukundu.

He added that Kasukuwere, who has two warrants of arrest after he absconded from his trial on charges of criminal abuse of office, faces arrest when he eventually returns to ­Zim­babwe to mount his campaign.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe at 43: Portents of a deepening authoritarian rule by Zanu-PF

“There is the attendant risk that Mnangagwa may not allow Kasukuwere to come back; we know that the law has always been politicised and abused to target political opponents so Kasukuwere may be arrested or disrupted in his political campaigns by Zanu-PF…”

Yet another disputed election

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe could be heading for yet another disputed election. The CCC has accused Forever Associate Zimbabwe (FAZ), a shadowy organisation with links to the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation spy network, of interfering with the electoral process. The opposition party, which recently accused FAZ of tampering with the voters’ roll, is now alleging that FAZ sponsored the fielding of more than one CCC parliamentary candidate in several National Assembly constituencies, an act that would split the vote.

At the same time, all opposition parties failed to field candidates in 53 council seats at the close of the nomination court sitting, resulting in Zanu-PF winning those seats unopposed.

What are the electoral issues?

More than 6.5 million Zimbabweans are registered to vote in this year’s elections. The country is going to the ballot box at a time when Zimbabwe’s economy is in the doldrums, with many failing to access healthcare and electricity, among other needs, while the Zanu-PF government stands accused of targeting political opponents and human rights defenders.

The country’s education system is also on its knees because teachers and other civil servants are paid poorly.

This could all work against Mnangagwa but the Zanu-PF leader still believes he will win the hearts and minds of the majority of Zimbabweans on 23 August. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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