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Tafi Mhaka: Can Chamisa really stop the 2023 elections from going ahead?

By Tafi Mhaka

If the 20 Principles for Reliable, Inclusive and Credible Elections in Zimbabwe, launched by the MDC on February 27 in Harare, are included in the planned Electoral Bill, Nelson Chamisa will certainly win the 2023 presidential election.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka

The recommendations are in many ways admirable, comprehensive and extremely progressive. Indeed, the proposals accommodate almost every possible electoral complaint or concern ever raised by civil rights groups, disenfranchised citizens, distressed voters, opposition parties and local and international observers.

The proposals include, among others, a vote for roughly 3-5 million Zimbabweans residing abroad, an independent Electoral Management Board, in addition to credible improvements on transparency and a clean voter’s roll.

But if President Emmerson Mnangagwa has his way, the abovementioned proposals will not become law.

Notwithstanding massive economic challenges, food shortages, regular load shedding and high unemployment, the Zanu-PF leader on Wednesday called on the party’s politburo to start preparing for the 2023 harmonised elections and to “deliver on its promises”.

And for the record, he didn’t mention electoral reforms.

Mnangagwa certainly does not intend to establish reforms: he wants to milk the current political set up for all the electoral sap it is worth and win the 2023 presidential ballot.

That, in a nutshell, is his winning plan: to do things the old way.

So despite renewed calls for him to resign, coming from the MDC, Mnangagwa is digging his heels in.

Remember, he learnt well, from an old hand.

Former President Robert Mugabe for a long time demonstrated that performing well in office is not everything in Zimbabwean politics.

Creating and managing national narratives and perceptions on economic progress and failures and winning elections are.

And according to Mnangagwa, plans to “advance the regime change agenda” in Zimbabwe, are underway.

So, as long as Mnangagwa rallies the uniformed forces and publicly faults the ‘G-40’ faction, the MDC, US/EU sanctions and foreign machinations for our extensive woes and obfuscates his administration’s comprehensive failings, while mollifying his base, using state resources, he will likely win a second mandate.

See, he may have struggled to win the presidential election in 2018, but Zanu-PF won a landslide victory in the parliamentary poll.

And that majority win won’t vanish into thin air anytime soon.

Neither will the millions who voted for Zanu-PF.

Chamisa, meanwhile, is vowing to ensure there is “no election that is not an election, we are sick and tired of rituals.”

Yet, he didn’t expand on what he means, or how the MDC will stop the 2023 elections.

Will the MDC announce Zimbabwe is closed for elections in 2023?

And shut the country down, making it ungovernable; and risking a confrontation with the police or army?

Plus, Chamisa is adamant the 2018 presidential election must somehow be ‘resolved’.

Yes, the former Kuwadzana MP is gunning for everything in one fell swoop.

It is a lot to swallow in one go.

Still, here goes: regardless of a Constitutional Court ruling, Chamisa wants to be declared winner of the 2018 presidential election?

Second, he wants to enact the most extensive electoral reforms in Zimbabwe’s history, with help from Zanu-PF MPs?

And third, he is vowing to stop the 2023 harmonised poll from going ahead, if it doesn’t meet the MDC’s democratic standards?

Is he for real?

This is the principal difference between Mnangagwa and Chamisa: the one is a seasoned, stubborn and ruthless doer: a resourceful operator who relies on power, patronage and lawful manoeuvring to persevere and win; while the other is simply a loquacious idealist.

Even as Chamisa clings on to an unconfirmed poll victory, Mnangagwa is focused squarely on winning the 2023 elections.

Sure, as the MDC criticises Mnangagwa on a daily basis, Zanu-PF’s 2023 campaign is forging ahead in rigid, organised and highly effective fashion.

The Command Agricultural Scheme and ZBC remain at the centrepiece of creating positive perceptions regarding government’s service delivery programmes and oiling Zanu-PF’s electoral campaigns.

Additionally, the government is establishing community radio stations across the country.

Zanu-PF will certainly order the new stations to champion “national development” and muddy the political waters in preparation for the 2023 elections.

As Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa put it, last month, “In the hands of national detractors, radio can play a divisive role.”

And in the hands of overzealous, partial Zanu-PF civil servants, our public radio is the MDC’s worst living nightmare.

So, while Chamisa is pushing an excellent electoral reform plan, which for all intents and purposes the MDC won’t pass in parliament, Zanu-PF is silently implementing a familiar blueprint: a winning strategy.

This political deadlock is so unreal, so normal and so shockingly regressive, it hurts.

Our leading politicians don’t really care much about resolving our growing economic and humanitarian needs.

But the less said about Mnangagwa, the better.

He has been a dedicated party man since 1980.

And we know his type.

We know his chequered history.

And we know Zanu-PF well.

Yet, we expect more from an MDC president.

It is Chamisa who is disappointing the millions who voted for him and the MDC-A on 31 July 2018.

It really is Chamisa who has staked the hopes of millions on making hollow declarations, overthinking everything and living in the past.

Indeed, if nothing changes, Zimbabwe is stuck with Mnangagwa until 2028.

Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in us, is scheduled to be published in 2020.

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