HARARE – There was widespread agreement yesterday that the going has just got tougher for former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her fledgling Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party, after they suffered a crushing defeat to Zanu PF in the weekend’s Bikita West by-election.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News said ZPF’s heavy shellacking in the Bikita mini-poll had left Mujuru with “a huge mountain to climb”, at least in the court of public opinion, about her capacity to defeat President Robert Mugabe and his warring ruling party in the much-awaited 2018 national elections.
Crucially, the analysts also pointed out, ZPF’s debilitating defeat also meant that Mujuru was now in a weak bargaining position in her delicate and ongoing coalition talks with the popular and tenacious opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
ZPF insiders who were displeased by the unexpected decision to contest the Bikita seat, which fell vacant when Zanu PF legislator Munyaradzi Kereke was incarcerated for 14 years for raping a minor relative, also told the Daily News yesterday that “the writing was on the wall” the moment Tsvangirai did not join Mujuru at her Bikita campaign rally, to drum up support for her candidate Kudakwashe Gopo.
“When Save (Tsvangirai) declined to join this monumental political miscalculation, despite having campaigned for Temba Mliswa in Norton last year, we all knew that it was all over,” one of the miffed insiders said after Zanu PF candidate Beauty Chabaya crushed Gopo by 13 156 votes to 2 453.
Political analyst Gladys Hlatywayo said even taking into account the reported cases of violence and intimidation in the by-election, the result was a bad one for Mujuru and ZPF.
“The claim made by Mujuru that she is the real headache for Zanu PF is probably untrue, given the outcome of the Bikita by-election.
“What is clear is that there is now a strong need for an opposition coalition if Zanu PF is to be defeated in the 2018 election. In addition, such a coalition should perhaps be led by a party with the largest following and such a party is MDC.
“I would like to think that by refusing to support ZPF, MDC wanted to gauge the support base of ZPF and be guided accordingly as they negotiate the terms of the coalition.
“This election outcome will have an impact on the ongoing negotiations and will probably reduce the bargaining power of ZPF,” Hlatywayo said.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, Pedzisai Ruhanya, also said the result of the election, notwithstanding the allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation, meant that Mujuru had lost her bargaining power in her coalition talks with Tsvangirai.
“Look, Bikita West has always been violent since 2000, and there was an even more violent by-election in 2001. Yet, Tsvangirai still won it and went on to repeat the feat in 2008, and had significant votes in 2013.
“So, if we are going to use that as a yardstick, then it is fair to say if there is to be any meaningful coalition by opposition parties, it has to have the former prime minister as its face.
“It is all about statics. This is no longer about assumptions, it’s about facts. Numbers don’t lie and Tsvangirai has them more than anyone else in the opposition,” Ruhanya told the Daily News.
However, he also noted that any judgment on Mujuru should consider the fact that Zanu PF was in control of the electoral process, which it always manipulated to its advantage.
“The fact that Zanu PF, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the State are conflated and are Siamese twins, means that it was always going to be difficult for Mujuru, and there is need to dismantle the system first because the administration of elections is still an illicit affair.
“But then, this also de-mystifies the myth that Mujuru has the support of the country’s security set-up because ZPF could not counter the Bikita West violence, just as she was ousted from Zanu PF, contrary to what we see with Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Ruhanya added.
In the run-up to Saturday’s by-election, violence flared up when 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.
Apart from the violence, observer groups also noted “multiple” other electoral malpractices, including a high number of assisted voters.
Terrified villagers also said they had ended up voting for Zanu PF, fearing that they would be dealt with ruthlessly if they disobeyed “chefs” (Zanu PF bigwigs) — who had allegedly dictated that they vote for the ruling party.
ZPF elder Rugare Gumbo conceded to the Daily News yesterday that while they were happy that they had “tested the waters” by participating in the Bikita by-election, they had not worked as hard as they should have.
“We did not co-ordinate ourselves well enough and our organising department did not do as well as we would have liked, but overall we are happy that we participated and we now know what we need to do going forward.
“It should also be taken into consideration that the electoral playing field was not level, as it favoured Zanu PF. There was rampant voter intimidation which justifies calls for electoral reforms,” he said.
ZPF was participating in its first elections since it was launched last year, with political analysts saying the poll would provide a litmus test for Mujuru.
In the run up to the by-election, Mujuru herself had said the poll would go a long way in assuring long-suffering Zimbabweans that their future lay with the opposition.
“This is the best chance to show to the world that together as opposition parties we stand, and divided we fall. This election is going to be historic because it’s going to show that opposition parties have the capacity of working together to defeat Mugabe,” her spokesperson, Gift Nyandoro, said.
However, former Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director, McDonald Lewanika, said it was “illogical” to judge Mujuru’s strength based on the Bikita by-election only.
“Yes, Mujuru was expected to haunt Zanu PF, but where? Is it in Bikita West? I think to rule out Mujuru based on Bikita West is faulty logic.
“The expectation has always been that Mujuru enjoyed popularity in Mashonaland East and Mashonaland Central, and that she also appeals to the middle class and business.
“So, her power cannot be tested on this by-election alone. If you want to prove it, you test it in an area she is supposed to be strong, in order to disprove or ascertain the myths. Anything else is an inaccurate conclusion,” he said.
Mujuru, who was ruthlessly purged from the warring Zanu PF in late 2014, together with her close allies who included liberation stalwarts such as Gumbo and Didymus Mutasa — on untested claims of plotting to oust and assassinate Mugabe — is working with Tsvangirai and other smaller parties on a grand coalition which they say will be in place before the end of this year.
Analysts have also consistently said that a united opposition, fighting with one purpose, would bring to an end Mugabe’s long rule — especially at this time when the country’s economy is dying and the increasingly frail nonagenarian is battling to keep his warring Zanu PF united.