Two years before the next general elections, the results of by-elections would be a strong indicator of the support bases for both the ruling ZANU-PF and the hugely divided opposition.
At the moment, there are 39 vacancies for the opposition MDC Alliance in Parliament and another 81 MDC Alliance vacancies in local government after a mass recall.
The recall came after a Supreme Court ruling concluded the election of Nelson Chamisa as opposition leader was unlawful. Chamisa took over after Morgan Tsvangirai died but was never elected at a party congress.
After the court ruling in March 2020 — just before Covid-19 hit Southern Africa in full force — a new MDC Alliance leader was elected legitimately at the party congress: Douglas Mwonzora. Since then, a splinter group has left the MDC Alliance to follow Chamisa, also calling themselves the MDC Alliance.
Another vacancy arose in Parliament from the ZANU-PF camp: former Lands Minister Perrance Shiri died of Covid-19.
Last week, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, said the body would resume voter registration and other election programmes at the beginning of April.
But he added that by-elections would only be held when the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.
For Chamisa and the MDC Alliance it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that they still have the support of the people despite ZANU-PF’s attempts to destabilise them over the past year by backing surrogates and choreographing defection.
That has not stopped stakeholders from calling for by-elections. Eighteen organisations, including residents’ organisations from Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, said in a recent statement: “Our representative democracy is now in intensive care because the electorate is being denied their right to choose leaders.”
The delay has not prevented political parties from canvasing voters. The MDC, led by Mwonzora, has openly declared that the party would use the MDC Alliance name during by-elections. This is despite Chamisa’s outfit being known as the MDC Alliance — a name it carried during the contested July 2018 general elections.
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