Opposition cries foul in Bikita election

HARARE – Analysts, civil society groups and the opposition were united in condemning the conduct of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF in the Bikita West by-election which was held yesterday, saying this did not bode well for the looming 2018 national elections.

Speaking to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday, they said the warring and under pressure former liberation movement had “openly signposted” how it would use “foul and murderous” methods to retain power in the eagerly-anticipated 2018 polls, after the run-up to the Bikita West by-election was marred by deadly violence and intimidation of voters.

The results of the hotly-contested by-election were not yet available at the time that the Daily News on Sunday went to print late last night.

However, analysts, rights groups and the opposition were adamant that they had seen enough in the events leading to the mini-poll to understand Zanu PF’s thuggish strategy for the 2018 national polls.

“The shocking political violence witnessed in the Bikita West by-election, just as what happened in Norton, confirms that Zanu PF’s infrastructure of violence remains intact and that the police will always look the other way when the party unleashes political violence.

“This is a red flag that the 2018 elections will probably be as violent as the 2008 elections, with no accountability whatsoever for abuses. Zimbabwe is yet to move away from a culture of violence,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher for southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, said.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, which once again declined to participate in the by-election, insisting on the implementation of sweeping electoral reforms to level the playing field, also warned that Zanu PF was “oiling its coercive machinery” in preparation for 2018.

“Whenever Zanu PF feels threatened, they revert to their default mode of violence, intimidation and thuggery,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.

“The regime was shocked by the result of the Norton by-election and this is why they are employing unprecedented violence and massive vote-buying measures as part and parcel of their election campaign tactics.

“But the fact remains that … Mugabe and Zanu PF are now unelectable. We urge the people of Zimbabwe, particularly the youths, to register to vote in their thousands as soon as Zec commences the biometric voter registration exercise in March 2017,” he added.

In the run-up to yesterday’s by-election, suspected Zanu PF thugs, who were brandishing guns, left for dead National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) candidate Madock Chivasa and his election agent Thomas Muzuva — as they made their way from a local shop where they had gone to buy food.

It was this merciless attack on Chivasa and Mudzamiri which heightened fears that Zanu PF had launched its bloody campaign ahead of the watershed 2018 elections.

Analysts have also said that it is worrying that there appeared to be “a consistent method of intimidation and violence by Zanu PF” in the country’s recent by-elections.

In the run up to the Norton by-election last October, in which Zanu PF candidate Ronald Chindedza was trounced by  former Mashonaland West provincial chairman Temba Mliswa, supporters of the ruling party ran amok as the brawling former liberation movement went for broke in its desperate bid to win the plebiscite.

Armed with sticks and stones, drunk ruling party hooligans, battered supporters of Mliswa and fought running battles with police — in barbaric scenes which turned the usually sleepy Harare dormitory town into a mini war zone.

The chaotic scenes left scores of people badly injured and forced Mliswa to cancel his scheduled rally at Ngoni Stadium where thousands of his supporters had gathered for a star rally.

And fearing a repeat of its mauling in the Norton by-election last November, Zanu PF had deployed the full might of its terror machine in the subsequent Chimanimani West by-election, which unsettled many villagers there.

“The violence we witnessed in Bikita and Norton are a clear indication of what the 2018 election holds in store. As expected, Zanu PF will resort to its default strategy of violence, intimidation and coercion, which is all not surprising,” political analyst, Maureen Kademaunga, also told the Daily News on Sunday.

“What is worrying are the levels of complacency that the law enforcement agencies who should be preserving peace are displaying.

“Also, it is quite disturbing that in 2016 we actually witnessed police themselves being perpetrators of violence through the aggressive and unwarranted use of force on unarmed civilians during protests,” Kademaunga said.

Civic groups which were monitoring the Bikita West by-election have also raised concerns regarding a number of irregularities during the course of last week, which they blamed squarely on Zanu PF.

Among the electoral malpractices listed by the observer groups were the commandeering of villagers to Zanu PF meetings where they were directed to give their headmen ballot paper serial numbers, feigning illiteracy, so that they could be “assisted” to vote.

In September last year Zanu PF youths also ran amok in Guruve, embarking on an orgy of political violence there and bludgeoning four Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) bigwigs — including a retired senior military official and former diplomat —  before forcing a forcing a local school to close.

The barbaric attacks by the axe-wielding ruling party mobs against ZPF officials also saw property worth tens of thousands of dollars, including two vehicles, being destroyed in the historically volatile Mashonaland Central Province.

The bloody scenes at Dunaverty Farm, where the three ZPF officials are running agricultural operations, left four people hospitalised, including Retired Brigadier-General and former Zimbabwe ambassador to Mozambique, Agrippa Mutambara.