Opposition parties must take lessons from the Bikita West by-election

Malvern Mkudu

While the recently ended Bikita West by-election has revealed that Zimbabwe People First leader, Joyce Mujuru ‘has no people and must not lead the coalition’ little attention is being given to the fact that ZANU PF has increased its numbers there using more of the same dirty tactics which have worked for them in previous elections.
It’s becoming clearer that the only tussle for power is within the ruling party where two distinct camps have emerged with one pushing for Vice President Emmerson Mnanagwa to take over while the other camp is opposed to this.

Many analysts, civil society and other political figures in the country have been saying the opposition forces in the country stand a better chance of defeating the ruling ZANU PF if they get into the election as a coalition but if the purposes of this coalition is merely to gang up against a ZANU PF candidate it is likey end in defeat.

MDC-T President Morgan Tsvangirai recently announced that a coalition deal was close only for him to avoid supporting the Joice Mujuru led ZPF candidate. Tsvangirai was expected to throw his weight behind the ZPF candidate in a move many said would set the ball rolling for a possible coalition depending on the outcome.

However those close to Tsvangirai said, the MDC-T leader tactically stayed away from this election in order to gauge how much support Joice Mujuru has. If Mujuru won alone then it would indicate that she is a political force to contend with.

However if she lost, it would be the stick which she would be beaten with against assuming the leadership of the mooted coalition. A colleague last week intimated to me that secretly MDC-T wanted a ZANU PF victory in order for the party to secure a commanding position in the race to find a coalition candidate.

Whether this is true or not, this election has revealed that the combined number of opposition parties including those that did not participate have no capacity to dislodge the ruling party.

ZANU PF is on course towards establishing its hegemonic project over the political space in Zimbabwe by hook or by crook. The ruling party unleashed all its machinery including state machinery and resources to ensure victory was secured. There were cases of violence reported after villagers and election candidates were attacked by ruling party activists.

There were reports of the ruling party doing door to door campaigns and then giving fertiliser and other inputs to the families they would have visited. Several electoral concerns which have been raised in previous by-elections were ignored as voters were turned away while there was what civil society election monitoring groups called a huge number of ‘assisted’ voters. There is no doubt the ruling party is not in a hurry to implement changes or introduce electoral reforms that may erode its unfair advantage.

The figures were telling. The ZANU PF candidate had over 13 000 votes up from the votes that were split in half in 2013 after ZANU PF fielded two candidates as a result of factionalism. One candidate, Munyaradzi Kereke was said to be backed by the Mnangagwa faction while the other Elias Musakwa was said to be backed by the Mujuru camp.

If we assume that Mujuru still has support within the ruling party , her supposed candidate Musakwa polled over 6000 votes in 2013 and now another ‘Mujuru’ candidate has garnered 2 000 votes in the same area. This means it was a myth that Mujuru commanded a faction within the ruling party or she has has a lot of work to do.

Claims that if MDC-T had entered the race, the game would have been different are not backed at least by the numbers coming out of Bikita West. If Tsvangirai is indeed a game changer then perhaps it would be fair to argue that he has lost most of his supporters to the ruling party. If he disagrees then he has to account for the increased ZANU PF figures in this election.

The answer may lie in the simple reality that ZANU PF was dishing out food aid and farming inputs to voters in Bikita. It was at this time that most of them were converted. Another answer is that the MDC-T simply is not present on the ground anymore and its supports are now with the ruling party.

If Tsvangirai had any support base in Bikita West then the same people are the ones who voted for ZANU PF this time around. Unlike ZANU PF which has remained vibrant and stayed on the ground in touch with their supporters, Tsvangirai’s MDC has blown hot and cold sending mixed signals to their supporters.

According to ZEC chairperson 18800 people were registered to vote in Bikita West before the by- election. A simple look at the numbers show that ZANU PF had 13156, ZPF 2453, NCA,343, PDZ 132 and independent candidate who got 725 and 247 respectively. One of the candidates Heya Shoko is former MDC-T Mp for the area.

From these figures ZANU PF managed to get 70% of all registered voters, ZPF 13%, NCA 2 %, PDZ 1%, the former MDC-T MP 1% and the other independent candidate 4%. Only 9% of the total registered voters did not go to vote. Assuming that these are the people who heeded the MDC-T call not to vote one can see that even the Joice Mujuru led ZPF would have a higher percentage of the share of voters in Bikita West than Tsvangirai’s MDC.
The share of votes for opposition outfits including those who abstained show that a coalition whose objective is to gang up against a ZANU PF candidate may not produce the desired result. The answer to dislodge the ruling party or more realistic to stop its momentum may lie elsewhere.

If the Bikita West by-election was meant to be a political barometer of some sort to determine who has the most significant numbers, the results show that it doesn’t matter. Whoever leads the coalition, ZANU PF will still romp to victory.

Had Tsvangirai’s supporters heeded his call not to participate then we would have seen either a low voter turnout or at least lower numbers for the ZANU PF candidate. In the Bikita West by-election there was a 91% voter turnout. This is very high.

Opposition political parties should take very important lessons from this result. Voters are not some sort of inventory or stock that opposition political figures can combine to use as bargaining tools to obtain high positions in this so-called coalition.

They must be clear about why they want a coalition and how they hope to achieve such a coalition. If the coalition is to increase seats in proportional representation in the other house then it may be achievable. However if it is to win against a ZANU PF presidential candidate, it is likely to fail.

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