Harare, Zimbabwe – When Obert Manduna was elected MP for the Nketa constituency in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, in August, the former humanitarian worker was thrilled.

“It has always been my passion to work with the oppressed, vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society,” Manduna told Al Jazeera. “So it was a calling, an innate talent that was within me to help [the] community, and this desire was cemented by my entry into politics.”

But this Saturday, his seat and those of 14 other members and eight senators, all members of the country’s largest opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), are up for election in a by-election. The events leading up to the vote were a bizarre episode, even in a country all too accustomed to unpredictable political developments.

Barely a month into his new role, Manduna was shocked to learn on social media that he had been let go from his dream role. A man claiming to be the CCC general secretary recalled him and the other 20 opposition MPs.

“Please note that the following members of the Senate were elected by the Citizens Coalition of Change (CCC) political party and are no longer members of the Citizens Coalition for Change political party,” reads an Oct. 3 letter written by one certain Sengezo Tshabangu to the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda.

The news hit him hard.

“It affected me mentally for a few minutes, but I do [a] I strongly believe in community development and have continued my work,” said Manduna.

Under Zimbabwean law, an MP’s seat may become vacant upon the dissolution of Parliament if he or she ceases to be a voter, is absent for 21 consecutive days, or is deemed mentally unfit or “mentally disabled.” And then a letter of resignation is sent from the party he represents to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House.

Nothing happened to the affected legislators. Something else struck them as strange: the man who claimed to be the interim general secretary of the main opposition was neither a member of the CCC nor its general secretary. The party said it had never heard of him either.

Of course, the CCC rejected Tshabangu, but Mudenda, the speaker of parliament, still followed the request to recall the lawmakers.

Following her recall, President Emmerson Mnangagwa called a by-election on December 8 in accordance with the country’s laws.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday, August 23, 2023 [AP Photo]

‘A joke’

The drama, which panicked the entire opposition and sparked debate in Zimbabwe’s political arena, was further complicated by this week’s events.

On December 7, Manduna and his 21 displaced colleagues were barred by the Supreme Court from participating in the elections in their constituencies. The court ruled that the nomination body should not have accepted her as a candidate for the by-election.

CCC claims Tshabangu is a ruling party activist bent on undermining the main opposition, an accusation he has denied. ZANU-PF secretary-general Obert Mpofu, secretary-general of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), also said his party had “nothing to do with what was going on”.

“I don’t even know Sengezo myself,” Mpofu said during the November election campaign. “I’ve never seen him before…I really think the whole claim that we have something to do with CCC is a joke.”

Meanwhile, CCC spokesperson Promise Mkhwananzi says the recalls are “unacceptable and worrying” as they reflect the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe.

“It is an attempt to subvert and undermine the will of the people, to disregard the right to vote and vote of the people of Zimbabwe. “It has become meaningless to vote in Zimbabwe because when you vote your voice is undermined,” Mkhwananzi said.

Political analysts said the opposition should have boycotted the by-election from the start.

Harare-based political analyst Rashwheat Mukundu told Al Jazeera the situation was a continuation of “rigged electoral processes”, referring to the disputed presidential election.

He said the opposition must now engage “broader society, churches, students and workers” to “demand the rule of law, independent state institutions and free and fair elections.”

“CCC cannot participate, so legitimize and offend at the same time,” he added.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa looks on as he delivers a press conference at State House in Harare on August 27, 2023 [Jekesai Njikizana/AFP]

A more comprehensive plan

Others say the recalls are part of a much broader plan by Mnangagwa to consolidate power in his second and final term.

The ruling party won a total of 136 seats in the polls, while the CCC won 73 seats. The recalls are therefore seen as an attempt to shift the balance of power in favor of ZANU-PF by ensuring that it ultimately receives a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

With a parliamentary majority, the president would have broader powers, including the ability to extend his term, analysts said.

According to the South African country’s constitution, the presidential term is limited to a maximum of two five-year terms. A two-thirds majority in parliament would be the key to implementing constitutional changes.

Stephen Chuma, interim spokesman for the CCC youth wing, called it a “clear decimation of multi-party democracy” and a reversal of the achievements of the liberation struggle under British colonial rule.

This struggle ended with independence in 1980 and has since helped strengthen ZANU-PF’s dominance at the national level. The controversial victory in August extended that run.

Across Zimbabwe, fears are growing about the erosion of the country’s established multi-party democracy, even as a long list of opposition figures and supporters, journalists and dissidents are being arbitrarily arrested or imprisoned.

One of them, Job Sikhalala, has been in prison since June 2022 for alleged obstruction of justice and incitement to public violence. It is his 65th arrest since entering partisan politics in 1999.

“It is now clearer that ZANU-PF is trying to get something done [a] One-party system in the country. ZANU-PF knows they are unelectable so they want to exclude CCC from participating in elections,” Chuma told Al Jazeera. “So many people died during the liberation struggle for the right to vote, now some greedy individuals are violating that right.” The situation requires progressive citizens to unite and fight against this dictatorship.”

Stanford Nyatsanza, a researcher at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, agreed, saying the evolving situation was an indication that ZANU-PF was overseeing a series of “indiscriminate elections” to achieve this in stages.

“Politically, this means that the opposition faces a difficult task of ousting from power a rival authoritarian regime that has captured virtually all institutions of democratic competition,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The absence of opposition CCC candidates on the by-election ballot papers is clear evidence of the conduct of elections in which opposition supporters cannot freely make their choice,” Nyatsanza added. “Basically, ZANU-PF will be running against itself on December 9 and that cannot be classified as an election.”

Source : www.aljazeera.com

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