Campaigning for the senate elections due next week has been quiet. Unusually quiet. So quiet that reports say law enforcement agents are worried that something might explode at the last minute.
There are no posters of contesting candidates. No T-shirts. No caps. One political commentator remarked that this was a clear sign that the country could not afford the elections because even ZANU-PF, which usually dishes out campaign material including shirts and dresses, has not been able to do it this time.
The campaign has been overshadowed by squabbles within the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which have literally split the party with party leader Morgan Tsvangirai leading one faction that is against participating and secretary general Welshman Ncube leading another that wants to participate.
MDC candidates are contesting 26 seats mostly in Matabeleland and the Midlands. The candidates were expelled from the party by Tsvangirai at the weekend for defying his directive to pull out of the elections.
Party spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi, who belongs to the faction that wants to participate, said the campaign was on full blast.
“We have been extremely busy on the ground. Right now I am taking a day’s rest after seven hectic days,” he said on Tuesday.
He said his campaign trail had taken him to Plumtree, Insiza, Gwanda, Silobela, Lupane, Nkayi as well as Bulawayo where they were holding small meetings.
“We have a full schedule at our regional offices of the places and venues where we are holding our campaign meetings,” he said.
Political commentators say though Matabeleland and the Midlands are MDC strongholds its candidates could lose the senate elections because of apathy and also because people might listen to party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has called for a poll boycott.
One observer, however, said people should not read too much into the elections. People were simply tired after having participated in more than five national elections in five years.
“The MDC could lose simply because of fatigue and nothing else. People had to vote in the national referendum in 2000, then in the parliamentary elections of June 2000, followed by the presidential elections in 2002, parliamentary elections in March 2005 and now senate elections. It’s just too much especially when the elections are not bringing any tangible benefits to the electorate,” the observer said.
Nyathi said taking part in the elections was a risk his faction was prepared to take.
“This is a matter of political principle. We cannot succumb to a dictatorship because this is extremely dangerous for any country,” Nyathi said. “It’s not about popularity but about principles.”
He said while the decision to boycott the senate elections might sound right to the people because they feel there is no point in contesting against ZANU-PF under the present environment, the main problem was that people were forgetting that the party leader was ignoring a decision by the majority, a decision he had promised he would abide by after the vote.
“Sometimes, I think we deserve the leadership we get because of our docility. It might sound right to go with our leader and support the boycott now because people agree with his decision, but what about tomorrow when he makes a unilateral decision that people do not agree with?
“The question is how do you trust a leader who agrees that people should vote and the outcome will be binding but then goes against his word? If the majority is wrong, let them learn from their mistakes,” Nyathi said.
An observer who preferred anonymity but said he was neither a supporter of the MDC nor the ruling ZANU-PF, but of the now defunct ZAPU, accused those calling for a boycott of being hypocrites because they were already in Parliament and wanted to shut others out.
“If the MDC is really serious about the boycott,” he said, “they should pull out of Parliament and out of all the councils.”