Change your name and win by-elections, Mnangagwa’s trap for Chamisa

In a surprise move, President Emmerson Mnangagwa proclaimed March 26, 2022, as the date for long overdue by-elections. This is to fill vacancies created through the controversial recalls of elected officials by the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T, using a cocktail of powers given to him by the courts and through the collusion of the Speaker of Parliament.

One recalls that when Mwonzora fired elected officials, he accused them of leaving the MDC-T to join the MDC Alliance, a political party he now claims is his own. The latter is the party led by Nelson Chamisa.

Zimbabweans on social media have been clamouring for a change in strategy on the part of Chamisa. They want him to announce a new name, and some have gone ahead and proffered new names they are saying he must adopt.

Predictably, and in what he thinks is a pre-emptive strike at Chamisa, Mwonzora addressed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, seeking to bar anyone from using the moniker MDC Alliance. Mwonzora is a Zanu PF puppet, and that needs no emphasis. It should be clear to those who observe that Zanu PF wants the MDC Alliance to change its name.

Those who claim to be friendly advisers have also taken to social media to campaign that the MDC Alliance must change its name, and do so before March 26, 2022. In a strange way, the enemies of the MDC Alliance sing in concert with its so-called friends. It must dawn on everyone that the same strategy cannot serve two conflicting ends. Zanu PF cannot push the MDC Alliance to change its name, and at the same time the MDC Alliance cannot use the same strategy handed to it by Zanu PF through its able string puppet, Mwonzora.

Why is Zanu PF, through captured institutions, seeking to push Chamisa to drop the MDC Alliance name? How does Zanu PF benefit from a change of name if its effect is to clear any confusion on who the true opposition is? Those of the “friends” who are pushing this agenda seem to suffer from the usual error that Zimbabweans make. We seem to think that Zanu PF is stupid, and that it has moments of lucidity where it actually takes action for the greater good. Those who think that Mnangagwa proclaimed elections 24 months after the fact because he suddenly realised that he has a constitutional duty to do so, are lost. I will demonstrate why this is so, by tracking through the strategy as it unfolded.

The first point to note is that Mnangagwa has a serious legitimacy crisis. Zanu PF knows that Mwonzora has never been accepted as the legitimate leader of the main opposition movement. His political career will soon meet its end if in 2023 elections are held. Chamisa is the leader of the opposition, and for as long as he is not in parliament, through his elected officials, that parliament will never command legitimacy. It has the same status in the eyes of right-thinking people, as Ian Smith’s desperate Zimbabwe-Rhodesia consisting of co-opted puppets masquerading as leaders of the black majority.

Zanu PF is not stupid. They are aware of this fact. They are also aware of the fact that if dialogue is the way to go, then Chamisa must be included by hook or by crook. So far, attempts using donkey and carrot tactics through POLAD have dismally failed. Chamisa continues to elude them and bamboozle them with his silence and his insistence on keeping his cards close to his chest.

Having performed badly in 2018, Zanu PF immediately set out to capture the opposition. An application was already pending in the courts challenging the appointment of Chamisa after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai. The High Court had ruled that the appointment was invalid and an appeal was immediately noted. Between the noting of appeals and the determination of the Supreme Court case, Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe had each led different parties in the elections, campaigned against each other, and elections came and went.

In a judgement that dents the credibility of a judiciary further, the Supreme Court accepted that the case had become moot for the developments that I have outlined. It proceeded to mischievously twist the one exclusion to the mootness doctrine, and installed Khupe as the leader of the opposition party that she campaigned against. Phase one of the takeover was complete, and ably assisted by an acquiescent judiciary.

In phase two, Zanu PF using Khupe, proceeded to create vacancies in the national assembly and in councils using recalls targeted at elected officials. Some elected officials quickly defected to the Khupe, later Mwonzora outfit and were saved from the chop. Instead of proclaiming by-elections, the Covid pandemic was used as a convenient excuse. No elections could be held as the government was battling the coronavirus and voting was feared as having a super spreader effect. In the interim, and despite the feigned pandemic fears, Mnangagwa continued to hold rallies, address large gatherings and the ruling party has continued with its work unabated. The pandemic existed as an excuse to avoid constitutional obligations but somehow seemed to fizzle out when it was convenient to Zanu PF.

The vacancies open up the stage for phase three, namely the mistaken participation of Chamisa in by-elections intended to bring him back into parliament as a minority opposition leader. Having been removed as leader of the main opposition in parliament, Chamisa now returns as a minority opposition leader. Zanu PF knows that Chamisa, under whatever moniker, will win the by-elections and overwhelmingly so. These by-elections will not give him the status of leader of the main opposition on paper. The strategy depends on this.

If Chamisa agrees to change the name of his party before March 26, 2022, it is predictable that there will be the name MDC Alliance on the ballot, as there is already an MDC Alliance in parliament under Mwonzora, with the collusion of the judiciary, ZEC and the Speaker.

Assuming that Chamisa wins the majority of the seats as a new party, he automatically becomes Mwonzora’s junior in parliament. He will also lose his right to claim that Mwonzora has effectively hijacked the MDC Alliance, and that will remove the greater portion of the doubt hanging around Mwonzora. It will also give basis to say if at all Chamisa was party leader in the MDC Alliance as he claims, then he abandoned that position and formed a new party.  In any future dialogue, he will be a junior member of the opposition, having only the right to speak for the few seats handed to him by Zanu PF on March 26. Chamisa will have been effectively installed as a junior to Mwonzora. This will also allow Zanu PF and Mwonzora a legitimate platform to “defeat” Chamisa in parliament through voting. This includes the real possibility that Zanu PF does not want the 2023 elections to happen and may be pushing for a government of national unity and delayed elections through constitutional amendments.

Chamisa won’t have the right to say he was excluded, for his members in parliament under the new name would have lost. The ultimate goal is to recalibrate the results of 2018 and remove the stink that both the ruling party’s leader and his creation Mwonzora only exist because of a pliable judiciary. Chamisa is needed in this game, and the by elections are the bait.

If I were Chamisa, I would be alive to the bigger picture and the possibility that Mnangagwa does not want elections next year. An angry man has never been a wise man. We may be angry at how the elected officials have been bastardised and how Mnangagwa has rendered all three arms of the state completely useless. Mnangagwa counts on that anger in the final phase.

Electoral law reforms needed for a free and fair election have not happened. It is to blow hot and cold for Chamisa to demand electoral reforms and then jump at the first opportunity to participate in inconsequential by-elections. The March 26, 2022, elections are nothing in the greater scheme of things. Chamisa does not need by-elections to test his suitability by the electorate. Anyone who holds a contrary view at best has no idea how the electorate in Zimbabwe operates and thinks. That advice is premised on a false basis

If at all someone needs by-elections to test the waters, it is the party whose leader performed dismally in the 2018 elections despite his own party doing well in other constituencies. Mnangagwa is that person!

No real benefit is served by insisting on getting into parliament just under a year before new general elections. If the members of his party who were recalled wish to get into parliament, let them do so as independents with Chamisa’s blessings. A change in name, though an attractive way to go, will serve Zanu PF more than the MDC Alliance. This was always, to me, an obvious strategy yet Zanu PF has proclaimed elections nonetheless. In my view where Zanu PF is concerned, it is  better to try and see how anything benefits them as a basis to understand why it has been done. To those who give advice on public platforms and claim to be friends, my view is be wary of friends who proclaim both your problems and their solutions on platforms where the enemy has easy access.

Those who are calling for a change of name must worry that their advice fits well into a clear strategy by Zanu PF. When two people with polar opposite intentions do the same thing, they must be wary that it is not the same thing they are doing!

Reginald Murendo is a political analyst and lawyer

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