HARARE – Former vice president and now Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) leader, Joice Mujuru — who is still smarting from her party’s crushing defeat at the hands of Zanu PF in Saturday’s Bikita West by-election — says she still has enough fuel in the tank to topple President Robert Mugabe from power in 2018.
In a statement yesterday, Mujuru also said the results of the Bikita West by-election, in which her candidate Kudakwashe Gopo polled poorly, had still demonstrated that ZPF was minimally set to eat into Zanu PF’s support base in the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national polls.
The statement came after analysts had said, in the wake of ZPF’s heavy shellacking in the Bikita mini-poll, that Mujuru was now left with “a huge mountain to climb” regarding her capacity to defeat Mugabe and his warring ruling party in next year’s elections.
The analysts who spoke to the Daily News at the weekend had also pointed out that ZPF’s debilitating defeat 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.
But Mugabe’s former long-standing deputy was defiant yesterday, saying there were in fact “many positive outcomes” from the Bikita by-election which was marred by violence and electoral malpractices.
“Yes Bikita could be a setback to some, but to us it is a positive event for which we are thanking our supporters who came out to support our candidate.
“We have polling stations where we won. We will use these to understand what we did well, and where we lost we will invest in understanding why.
“Overall, Bikita strengthens rather than weakens us,” ZPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said in yesterday’s statement.
“There are key issues that come out of the by-election that we are going to use in the (2018) elections strategy that we are putting in place as a party.
“If you want to extrapolate the results and apply them to the whole country, to say that will be the number of votes we are going to get in the 210 constituencies in 2018, then you will realise that the 2 453 votes by Gopo (in Bikita) will translate to 515 130 votes nationally, which is 24 percent of the total votes polled by Mugabe in 2013.
“If you subtract the 24 percent from 61 percent that Mugabe got (in 2013), you will realise that he would fall short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed for one to be declared president.
“Assuming all the people who voted for Gopo are former Zanu PF, which is possible, it makes a compelling argument that a coalition of opposition forces can dislodge Zanu PF since Mujuru eats into the Zanu PF vote to the benefit of opposition forces,” Mawarire added.
In the run-up to Saturday’s by-election, violence flared up in the constituency 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 was participating in its first elections in Bikita, since it was launched last year, with political analysts saying ahead of the poll that it would provide a litmus test for Mujuru.
Former Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director, McDonald Lewanika, told the Daily News at the weekend that it was “illogical” to judge Mujuru’s strength based on the Bikita by-election result 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.
But another 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, weighed in saying 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 statistics. 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.
Mujuru, who was ruthlessly purged from the warring Zanu PF in late 2014, together with her close allies who included liberation stalwarts such as Rugare 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.
Ruhanya said Bikita West should be a sobering turn for opposition parties who have been bickering among themselves while the nation is burning.