How Mnangagwa and Chamisa handle the post-election crisis rocking the country will determine the fate of the new democracy both pledged during the campaigns.
The euphoria that trailed the ouster of Robert Mugabe was informed by the belief that it would turn a new page in the political history of Zimbabwe. The pledge of building a new Zimbabwe dominated the speeches delivered by all the presidential candidates during the campaigns.
The people had become weary of the socio-economic challenges created by the misrule of the Mugabe regime. For years, they yearned for a change of leadership that would make their beloved Zimbabwe
a peaceful, stable and democratic nation, where freedom of expression, movement and association would flourish. The post-Mugabe elections held on July 30, 2018, were expected to create the road map to a better country. The expectation among pundits was that Zimbabweans would emerge from the elections united and determined to move the country forward.
In the presidential election, the ruling ZANU-PF party candidate, 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner with 50.08 per cent (2.46 million) votes while the candidate of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, secured 44.3 per cent (2.15 million) votes. In the parliamentary polls, Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF secured 144 seats while Chamisa’s MDC alliance won 64 seats. Pro-Mugabe’s National Patriotic Front (NPF) won one seat. However, what remains unclear is whether the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was committed to holding free, fair and credible elections, and were there wide consultations on how to hold violence-free elections? Reports on the campaigns and the consequent conduct of the elections raise questions over the conduct of ZEC.
Unfolding events since the election ended indicate that, besides the forced removal of Mugabe from the corridors of power, nothing has changed in the politics of the country. The culture of authoritarianism, disregard for the rule of law, political violence and police and army brutality towards members of the opposition are still prevalent. The court is still used to hound the opposition and any voice of dissent. Indeed, political uncertainties still pervade the country as in the days of Mugabe.
An analysis of the evolving scenario shows that what was uppermost in the minds of the country’s political class was the removal of Mugabe from power. The ex-President was an obstacle to their quest for power. It was least expected that lives would be lost in the first post-Mugabe elections. Six people died from army bullets during clashes with opposition protesters.
The killings of protesters have reignited the dark days of the Mugabe’s era. Mugabe preached egalitarianism but he was repressive, never allowing the opposition to exist. Mugabe held the country to ransom for so long through the backing of the army. They were there, always, to silence any dissenting voice. And his successor, Mnangagwa, was a key player in his administration for the 37 years he ruled the country. Now, it would seem Mnangagwa is wearing the toga of the Mugabe regime.
The role the police and army played during the elections, the sealing of the office of the MDC and the on-going arrest and prosecution of opposition members for challenging the results of the elections, have put Zimbabwe’s new democracy under Mnangagwa on trial.
How Mnangagwa and Chamisa handle the post-election crisis rocking the country will determine the fate of the new democracy both pledged during the campaigns. Both leaders owe the people an obligation to lift Zimbabwe from the doldrums of the past. It is their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the life and property of the people.
Enough of the wanton killings. It is a sad omen that Zimbabwe has remained a theater for bloodshed since it attained independence. A post-Mugabe Zimbabwe should be allowed to witness rapid development and growth. An enabling environment must be created for the citizens to enjoy the abundant resources the country is endowed with. This is what they demand from the leaders.
The founder and leader of MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, battled Mugabe till his death last year. There was no love lost between the two. While Chamisa was Tsvangirai’s right hand man just as Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s, it would seem Chamisa has not turned a new leaf in the new dispensation. He kicked off his campaigns with tough talk, threatening fire and brimstone, if he lost the election. He entered the arena with the preconceived belief that the ruling ZANU-PF would rig the election in favour of Mnangagwa. He might have been cheated, the government might have manipulated the ZEC to obtain victory. Chamisa has the right to protest and seek justice, but this must be done in a civilized manner even though he has no confidence in the judiciary. Importantly, the opposition must consider the fate of the ordinary citizens whom it has vowed to rescue from the “misrule” of the ZANU-PF. Violence is an ill wind that must be avoided. Chamisa must be guided by history.
Despite the condemnation of the excessive use of force to quell opposition protests during the elections by international observers, the government has continued to harass members of the main opposition party. No fewer than 27 members of the MDC have been arrested and charged for inciting violence during the elections.
The government must demonstrate that it was truly committed to creating an enabling environment for a level playing field for all the presidential candidates. Having been declared winner of the election, Mnangagwa should look beyond partisanship and extend the olive branch to the opposition and not heat upthe situation further by targeting opposition members.
Why Mnangagwa called for elections
An analysis of circumstances surrounding the sudden exit of Mugabe shows that Mnangagwa was compelled to schedule the elections for July. Ordinarily, he would have waited longer than the July date. There was an urgent need to pacify the people and win their confidence. He wanted to erase from the minds of the people the thinking that he was just power-hungry as peddled by Mugabe’s supporters. During his brief self-exile in South Africa, he had issued a boastful statement telling the people that “I will return to Zimbabwe to lead you.”
He was not returning home to rule for a couple of months. Rather he had in mind a presidency of a five year mandate as provided in the constitution. Therefore, there was the compelling need to give a stamp of legitimacy to his rule. This he could achieve only through elections. Analysts believe that winning a legitimate election was all he needed to finally break Mugabe’s supporters.
Already, Constantino Chiwenga, the army chief and mastermind of the coup that sent Mugabe packing, is Mnangagwa’s First Vice President. In other words, the army remains loyal to the president. This explains the inference made by a protester who reportedly held a placard with the inscription: “We don’t want fake elections” and “There’s no need for Chiwenga to control the elections.”
Chamisa rejected the call for a boycott, insisting on MDC participation. He was confident that he would defeat Mnangagwa. That was because he was standing on the platform of a seven-party coalition. His confidence was further inspired by the fact that he enjoyed the support of the youth.
But after it dawned on Chamisa that he would not be able to jump over the ‘political thorns’ on his way, first, being a pastor, him and his followers commenced holding prayer vigils. Days to the elections, the horizon was clear enough for him to believe that the government and ZANU-PF had perfected plans to secure victory. Stressed by intelligence reports reaching him, Chamisa urged his supporters to storm the streets and ZEC premises to protest alleged plans to rig the elections. ZEC gave the opposition room to believe there was rigging when it unduly delayed the release of the results of the presidential poll.
Chamisa, a political orphan
Undoubtedly, Mnangagwa understands the rudiments of the game too well to have allowed a defeat, especially at a time when he had the chance to achieve his aspiration to become the country’s First Citizen.
In Zimbabwe, the army and the judiciary are crucial to winning presidential elections. In the 37 years of Mugabe’s rule, the two bodies were visible in the country’s election process. While the army had the responsibility of crushing opposition protesters like it did in the recent elections, the judiciary had the task of keeping away unrepentant opposition members from the society for as long as it pleases the authorities.
Chamisa already knew that he would not get justice from the courts, which he has declared publicly. He reportedly questioned the independence of the judiciary when he expressed his fears: “When you go into the court, you are going into the lion’s den. We are not about to be a meal for lions. So, we are very circumspect.”
What hope for peace in Zimbabwe?
Though Zimbabwe has missed the opportunity of being another shining example of a new democracy in the region after South Africa, what becomes of its political future would depend on how the president manages the affairs of the country. He has the challenge of defusing the current tension in the country. He may have started the process of calming the situation when he reportedly addressed Chamisa directly saying: “You have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe’s present and in its unfolding future. Let us call for peace and unity in our land.”
He has also said he would be the president of all Zimbabweans, “for those who voted for me and for those who did not.”
But in a tacit response to Chamisa’s allegation of electoral fraud, the president said people are free to approach the courts if they wish to challenge the results, which he said was arrived at in “a free, fair and credible election.” Chamisa wants Mnangagwa to acknowledge that the MDC “won the election.”
Whatever the feelings of the candidates, they must bear in mind always that Zimbabwe is greater than any individual. Therefore, an enabling environment for development and growth must be created. This is what patriotism is all about.
Chamisa has challenged the results of the election in court. The judiciary owes the people the obligation to give an unbiased verdict. It must be seen as a neutral umpire. What becomes of Zimbabwe would depend on the judiciary but more importantly on the level of commitment to the peace and unity of the country by Mnangagwa and Chamisa.