By Fungi Kwaramba
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC says the chaos and irregularities witnessed in the weekend’s Mwenezi East by-election — which had an unusually high voter turnout despite the warring Zanu PF contesting against little known opponents — were a bad omen for 2018.
The MDC’s statement yesterday came in the wake of Zanu PF retaining the seat when its candidate, Joosbi Omar, secured 18 700 votes against the poor showing of candidates from the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the Free Zimbabwe Congress party.
The weekend’s mini-poll was marred by allegations of intimidation, partisan food distribution and massive confusion on the voting day.
“Zanu PF know that they are deeply unpopular with the masses. So, what the regime has done is to ring-fence rural areas and to use chiefs and other traditional leaders as its political commissars.
“Villagers are commandeered into voting for Zanu PF to continue to stay safely in their villages and to continue accessing food aid and other assistance from the government.
“In other words, Zanu PF is abusing the people’s poverty and destitution that it created. People in rural areas are vulnerable to intimidation because they are constantly reminded of the June 2008 violence in which many people were killed and maimed, but no culprit was ever brought to book.
“The Zanu PF regime is now harvesting from this state of fear and hopelessness,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
As if to underline the chaos which beset the Mwenezi East by-election, where many voters were turned away, even Omar was among those who struggled to vote on the day.
He was only able to cast his vote at the third attempt, after travelling almost 20 kilometres from the original polling station that he had visited.
The build-up to the by-election had also been sullied by allegations of intimidation and vote buying — which forced one of the better known candidates, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, to withdraw from the contest.
Civil society group, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) reported “widespread confusion” at polling stations, leading to many voters being turned away.
Zesn said most of the confusion arose as a result of poor voter education on the polling station-based voters’ roll, which resulted in many voters turning up at the wrong polling stations.
During his tour of Mashonaland East in February this year, Tsvangirai was told of how Zanu PF was using traditional leaders to intimidate villagers.
Speaking to the Daily News then, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said the former prime minister was gravely concerned by the “overwhelming information” that the MDC had received which pointed to the fact that Zanu PF was “already in the process of stealing next year’s elections”.
Traditional chief after traditional chief had apparently told Tsvangirai, that they were being forced to not only join the ruling party, but to also lead its cells and wards — and to actively work to help rig next year’s polls.
“There is a plan by Zanu PF to steal next year’s elections. We have been on the ground here in Mashonaland East and what we are seeing and hearing is that Zanu PF wants to steal the next elections again.
“However, we will do all that we can to ensure that traditional leaders are not abused and absorbed into Zanu PF structures? Indeed, the rights of traditional leaders must and will be observed,” Tamborinyoka said then.
“The fearful village heads all said they were forced to be chairpersons of Zanu PF’s cells. That way, Zanu PF will coerce them to frog-march people to vote for the ruling party.
“So, the sum total of Zanu PF’s ploy is that it is assimilating traditional leaders into its partisan structures, abusing them in the process,” Tamborinyoka added