Home » Governance » Will Independent Candidates Upset Zanu-PF?

The political landscape appears to have shifted since then, with an influx of independent candidates now throwing their hats into the ring in order to represent different constituencies in the National Assembly.

WITH less than a month to go before the country is plunged into a mini-election on June 10, occasioned by the recall of 21 Members of Parliament formerly aligned to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, there appears to be a proliferation of independent candidates unlike before.

Voters who all along have been used to making a black and white choice as they pick their preferred candidates from either ZANU-PF or the MDC-T, will now have to contend with the increased number of independent candidates.

The calibre of independent candidates is mixed, with some being political novices hoping to capitalise on the void created by the recall of the MDC-T legislators and others being politicians of note, who in the past have won overwhelmingly in their constituencies.

Zimbabwe’s election space has always been dominated by ZANU-PF and the MDC-T primarily because the candidates drawn from other political parties have either been unknown to voters or failed to make their mark during the election campaign trail.

The last round of elections held in July 2013 saw only two independent candidates who were well known win. These were Jonathan Samkange and Munyaradzi Kereke — both of whom opted to go solo after relations with ZANU-PF temporarily soured.

The political landscape appears to have shifted since then, with an influx of independent candidates now throwing their hats into the ring in order to represent different constituencies in the National Assembly.

Although 21 former legislators were recalled last month by Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of Parliament, only 14 seats will be contested as the rest were allocated through proportional representation.

The country’s opposition parties, which include the MDC-T, MDC led by Welshman Ncube and the MDC Renewal Team headed by Sekai Holland, are not participating in the by-elections, which they have described a farce.

ZAPU, the National Constitutional Assembly and Transform Zimbabwe have, however, fielded candidates in several constituencies.

The opposition insists that the electoral playing field was uneven and favoured a ZANU-PF victory.

Still, the ruling party is unmoved by the latest move by the opposition and has hit the ground running in its bid to claim all 14 seats and increase its presence in the House of Assembly.

Perhaps even more attractive for ZANU-PF is that the by-elections offer the ruling party the only chance in nearly 15 years to clinch a seat in the Bulawayo metropolitan province.

The second largest city in the country has eluded ZANU-PF, being under the control of the MDC-T.

Thirty two candidates are set to contest five parliamentary seats in Bulawayo and Tsholotsho North. Of the 32, 14 are independent candidates.

While the Bulawayo metropolitan province and Tsholotsho North may be a sure-in for ZANU-PF, in other constituencies it faces uncertainty.

Temba Mliswa, the former Hurungwe West legislator who was expelled from the party last month is standing as an independent candidate. He faces off against ZANU-PF’s candidate, Keith Guzah, in what is certain to be a nail-biting contest for the coveted seat.

Although Mliswa is standing as an independent following his expulsion from the party for hobnobbing with former vice president, Joice Mujuru, he is reported to still command a significant support base in his constituency.

A victory by Mliswa would leave egg on the face of ZANU-PF which is at pains to see the abrasive politician’s back.

Political observers are divided in opinion over the impact that independent candidates could make in the by-elections.

Zibusiso Dube, a political commentator, believes that independent candidates, in the absence of ZANU-PF’s arch-rival, the MDC-T pose little threat in June 10 by-elections .

As far as he can see, ZANU-PF will bag most of the seats that are available.

“History has shown that it is not easy for independent candidates to win seats in Zimbabwean elections. Only a few have achieved this feat. And in the absence of the parties that have traditionally won in urban areas, the seats are ZANU-PF’s for the taking,” said Dube.

“In addition to this, ZANU-PF still controls much of the voter registration and voting machinery and it’s not beyond the party to tilt things in its favour.”

Charles Mangongera, a senior research fellow at a local think tank, SAPES Trust, has a different take. He is of the opinion that independent candidates could become an alternative for voters, although their space in politics was not as prevalent as in other African nations.

“Unlike other countries like Malawi where the current Parliament has more independent legislators than any of the political parties, Zimbabwe does not have a history of independent candidates being voted into office,” he said.

“However, if one considers that the MDC-T, which has traditionally dominated the urban constituencies has not fielded candidates under its name, there is a realistic chance that some of the independent candidates may give ZANU-PF a good run for its money as they are the only viable alternative the electorate will consider. Most urban voters are frustrated by ZANU-PF’s failure to turn around the economy and create jobs and my suspicion is that those who will turn out to vote will want to punish the ruling party,” Mangongera added.

All eyes will therefore be on whether ZANU-PF would win the vacant seats in the wake of the ructions within its rank and file. Any upset would be a step backwards as ZANU-PF eyes the 2018 election.

Source : Financial Gazette