Fear mounts as campaign year arrives

HARARE - The possibility of political violence this year is high as political parties start campaigning for what has been described as a do or die election next year.

Political and social analysts interviewed by the Daily News said the pattern over the years is that all campaign years have turned violent and this year the stakes are even higher as Zanu PF wants to retain power at all costs while the opposition is adamant it will win the election given the poor state of the economy and the poverty that has engulfed all citizens across the political divide.

Political analyst Mcdonald Lewanika said 2017 is likely to be an interesting year politically, but campaigns per se can only begin once candidates are clear and an election period is demarcated.

“Given precedence, while there is likely to continue to be disturbances and violence at opposition rallies, these can only intensify and occur perhaps in greater measure once the above stated details are clear.

“So perhaps counter intuitively violence may be stemmed in 2017 through lack of clarity on who the primary opposition candidate(s) will be thus not providing an easy ready target for violence from the state, but perhaps increases chances of some forms of violence stemming from possible fights amongst the opposition.

“In all likelihood - campaigns for 2018 will begin in 2017 and we will still see violent quashing of protests, banning and disturbances of rallies and so on.

“As we get into 2018 it is possible that no go areas and other restrictions of freedoms of movement, association and speech will set in especially in far flung rural areas a few months ahead of elections, if this happens what will determine the level of violence will be the resolve of those barred to access the electorate and that of those barring to stop access from occurring,” said Lewanika.

Election Resource Centre director Tawanda Chimhi said: “It always difficult to predict the future and that should be left to those gifted enough to do so but the behaviour of politicians is often easier to predict based on evidence from the past.

“Elections are a livelihood issue and sadly winning elections must happen regardless of the cost. That being said, the continued absence of a solid and constitutional legal framework to conduct credible, free and fair elections, a clear and exhaustive administrative framework of how to run electoral processes and a political culture that supports constitutional behaviour by electoral competitors, 2017 electoral processes remain vulnerable to the excesses of very selfish and self-serving political interests.

“The current provisions in legislative and administrative frameworks of our elections make 2017 a year vulnerable to all the ills associated with Zimbabwe's electoral history.”

Chimhinhi said however there remains an opportunity to make up for time lost and address the bulk of the vulnerabilities by strengthening election related laws “through parliamentary processes, strengthening election regulations and procedures through the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and strengthening institutions supporting democracy by availing adequate resources to them on time, supporting their independence from political and other negative influences and supporting accountable actions in the discharge of their duties.”

Mining activist Farai Maguwu said: “Violence works in Zimbabwe politics. It brought Zanu PF to power and has kept Zanu PF in power since 1980. In fact Zanu PF has not demobilised its war architecture and ideology.

“This is why they keep referring to the 1970s war during election times. Unless and until Zanu PF is transformed into a modern democratic political institution they will always label opponents 'enemies' of the people who must be destroyed. They will most probably make it difficult for the opposition to organize, especially in rural areas.

“The biggest likelihood of violence is between Zanu PF and People First because at some point they walked together and used the same weapon.”

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said: “Violence is inevitable. The 2017 shall be violent and such violence as usual will have actors that belong to the state and some within our communities. Free and fair is a dream in Zimbabwe.”

Political analyst Earnest Mudzengi said: “I wouldn't necessarily say I foresee violence. But what I can say is that the elections will not be free and fair as long as we will not have far reaching electoral reforms that level the electoral playing field.”

Lawyer Jacqueline Chikakano said: “I think that opportunities for a freer campaign space are there as supported by a generous constitutional framework that upholds political rights as well as a number of other key freedoms during such times such as freedom of expression, conscience, assembly and association among others.

“But of course this critically depends on the extent to which these are respected and upheld and on the extent to which the state puts in place requisite measures to support the existence of a conducive environment. A lot will rest also on how bold our courts are as some contests will likely end there.

“However judging by how tough things were economically in 2016, with shrinking employment opportunities, continued cash crisis and its related challenges one could fairly speculate that a worsening or persistence of the current challenges can possibly lead to a brewing of political violence as the electorate gets desperate and are used by political parties who often resort to vote buying through things like partisan food distribution.

“Thus in my opinion political parties themselves pose one of the biggest threat to the emergence of election related violence because of the level of desperation that sections of the public will likely continue to have going into the elections, more so considering the culture of vote buying that has characterised past election periods,” said Chikakano.

She added: “It’s my speculation that aside from a conducive legal environment and challenges that may be posed by related gaps, I think the economic challenges Zimbabweans are facing will likely be the push factor to any political violence if at all.”

Political activist Tabani Moyo said in terms of violence, anything can happen, given the factionalism in the ruling party, it’s highly likely that it will fuel violent means towards communities.

“You have seen the isolated cases already in Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Masvingo in the year 2016. As the flanking year towards the plebiscite and gauging from history, cases of violence usually escalate as the ruling party attempts to cordon off campaigning that encroaches into the Zanu PF strongholds.”

Moyo said the sad situation is that the opposition is still stuck in some world of its own, failing to read the national mood and the mechanics of running a successful election.

“By now, we should be seeing serious political activity, founded on big ideas and strengthening of the capacity to monitor the nuts and bolts of elections ranging from the proposed new biometric system, ward based voting, elections materials handling and storage etc. The onus is on the opposition to raise the stakes very high by showcasing the systems weakens rather than sloganeering!

“By now the opposition should be proving to all stakeholders how elections have been successively rigged rather than blanket claims. Campaigns for the elections should be grounded in evidence of how the past elections were conducted and proposals on how to safeguard electoral theft.”

Moyo added that there will be serious apathy from urban voters who are highly disenfranchised. “In addition, the opposition has never gone on a full swing structured process of ensuring total participation in towns - Harare and Bulawayo alone, if they all participate are adequate to kick the ruling party out of power given the demographic profile and ensuring that the marginal communities are fireproofed from ghost voters.”

Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said: “The year 2018 like all other elections in Zimbabwe since 1985 will be violent, more so as Zanu PF is internally confused. Elements that will perpetrate violence include both state and non-state actors, with non-state actors more fragmented as war vets, Zanu PF youths and other organs are divided and likely to fight from different and opposing sides.

“Intra and inter party violence will characterise 2017 to 2018. And the focus on Zanu PF will be to control of the instruments of violence especially the police, youth militia and military and its cadres can act with impunity. Opposition parties will likely be at the receiving end though potentially could perpetrate violence.”

Social commentator Barbra Mhangami said: “Political campaigns in 2017 will be neither free nor fair. The environment where Zanu PF has politicised the military and the police will ensure that there is violence and brutality towards any opposition party or coalition of parties. “With food aid likely to be coming into the country due to the drought and low farm productivity, this aid will likely be politicized and used to ‘secure’ support in many rural constituencies.

“I believe that in 2016 we saw an emboldened citizenry take to the streets in peaceful protest of tyranny and we saw police brutality much like the brutality we saw during the apartheid in South Africa.”

Mhangami added: “We are likely to continue to see citizens take to the streets peacefully with the same rallying cry as in 2016. Police will be brutal as will the so called Zanu PF youths. “However I believe Zimbabweans will never stop protesting. There has been a huge shift in consciousness in a critical mass of the population and this shift will spread from urban and peri urban areas to the rural population where the majority of voters still reside. This is where the protest movements need to go and light fires.”

Another social commentator Edinah Masanga said: “Observation of human rights was appalling this past year as is now the modus vivendi under the current government. Normally when we talk of human rights people are quick to think only about physical violations of human rights but we must also allude to the failure to provide public goods by Mugabe’s government as a gross violation of economic and social rights which also form the core of human rights in general.

“As for this year I see physical violence escalating because of course this government will want to tighten its grip on the people and intimidate them into voting for them - if at all this government was voted into power at all.

“I think that Mugabe's government takes all the trophies for being the best for disenfranchising their people of the very basic human rights- the same people they purport to stand for.”

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “Whenever Zanu PF's power base is shaken and unstable as it is right now, you can always be assured that the regime will revert to its default mode of violence and intimidation.

“Zanu PF and violence are like inseparable Siamese twins; the one can't do without the other. Already there is extreme violence being witnessed in Bikita West constituency where there will be a Parliamentary by - election soon.

“The chances of Zanu PF winning in 2018 are zero and as such, the regime has let loose its instruments of thuggery and terrorism; particularly in the rural areas. But Zimbabweans shouldn't lose hope because the beleaguered and faction - ridden, bankrupt Zanu PF regime will be confined to the dustbin of political history in 2018; if not sooner than that.”

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “The year 2017 will see more jostling for 2018 elections. Electoral violence and voter buying and fraud will hog the limelight. Zanu PF factional fights will continue to make political news as much as disintegration in opposition parties makes news.

“While Mugabe's departure has to be the drastic thing to happen for better economic and political forecast in 2017, in opposition politics burying of egos and coalescing against Zanu is the drastic thing required. Otherwise we will continue with the bunch of weak opposition splinter groups that are there for donor funds and are comfortable to hold the status of official opposition parties.”

Legislator Jessie Majome said: “I fear 2016 politics will be characterized by the abuse of the ruling party's super majority to systematically dismantle the constitution which has already started by the horrendous and uncalled for Chief Justice provisions' unravelling.

“More of this removal of checks and balances to concentrate de jure power back into absolute and totalitarian rule by an imperial president is coming- the devolution provisions, the term limits provisions, the National Peace and Reconciliation and Media Commissions and presidential succession provisions are not safe and many others.

“The ruling party's factional fights will worsen and exacerbate its failure to govern while resorting to brute force to quell swelling public anger outpourings.

“A foul and bloody electoral mood will develop and envelope the nation with prospects of a free election getting dimmer the more desperate the ruling party gets in failing to quell public ire against its failed economic policies. Citizens will get bolder to vent their anger at the increasingly rudderless and drifting government.”

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