‘Things could turn ugly’ – Chamisa

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KADOMA, Zimbabwe – Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa says his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its coalition partners feel more susceptible to violence after a bomb attack on a Zanu-PF party rally narrowly failed to kill President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

By Tendai Marima

Chamisa told Al Jazeera that although Zimbabwewas more stable than a decade ago, Saturday’s attack on the stadium in Bulawayo where Mnangagwa spoke made him expectant of more tension directed at the opposition ahead of next month’s elections.

“It shows you that things can turn ugly, it has been ugly in the past and over the past 38 years we have had disputed elections, violent elections, state-sponsored violence and we are likely to see that ugly feature rearing its head once more.

“Zimbabweans are vulnerable … the electorate is vulnerable, political players like myself are vulnerable. I have scars on account of political violence in the past, so it’s something we have budgeted for,” he said in an interview held on the lawns of a hotel in Kadoma currently hosting opposition and ruling party members alike.

Saturday’s bomb attack struck only a few metres away from Mnangagwa, but the president escaped unhurt. About 50 people were injured.

The run-up to the polls has been characterised by intra-party tensions mainly in urban areas, but inter-party violence over food aid and voter registration, has been a feature mostly in rural areas where the majority of the 14 million population live.

Chamisa, who has experienced physical assault at the hands of state agents under the former government, expressed wariness of driving back to Harare at night.

He added that it was “impossible” for Zimbabwe to hold credible and peaceful polls, expressing concern over how security institutions were likely to play a key role in shaping Zimbabwe’s political environment ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls on 30 July.

Echoing concerns on the changing security environment, McDonald Lewanika, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera, the incident could change priorities in governance.

“It definitely increases the levels of vulnerability and introduces an intractable fear into the electoral process. This may well be the intention of the perpetrators who do not have to do repeat attacks on the logic of staging one attack to scare thousands.

“The real danger of such events is that they can take attention away from the democratic process and democratic imperative in favor of safety, security and stability imperatives,” he said.

Police hunt

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, whose wife Mary was among those injured in the grenade attack, has condemned it as a “terrorist act” and vowed those responsible will be found.

A police hunt for possible perpetrators is under way and the country’s highways, which had been free of roadblocks for months, are again littered with security checkpoints from one town to another.

Last November, Chiwenga led a military operation that saw the end of President Robert Mugabe‘s 37-year strongman rule and the rise of Mnangagwa, his protege.

Mnangagwa blames his usual enemies for the explosion, which has been described as a possible “assassination attempt” by state media but he has vowed under his leadership, the ruling Zanu-PF is assured of victory in the scheduled July poll.

While Chamisa sees free and fair polls as a “remote possibility”, Mnangagwa has repeatedly promised to hold a credible election.

Lewanika told Al Jazeera although the political environment was now tainted, it might still be possible to hold credible polls if the opposition’s demands for fairness, such as equal access to state media and greater transparency from the electoral commission, were met.

“Despite the attack, it is still possible for Zimbabwe to have free and fair elections through focusing on things that can be controlled … critical elements of the freeness and fairness of the elections are not affected by the explosion and what is lost through fear can be regained through conducting a good quality election where all stakeholders know and accept the rules of engagement,” he said.

In brief, separate statements, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General and AU Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, condemned the attack. Mahamat urged Zimbabwe to press ahead with the July poll.

“Their successful conduct will mark a major step in the efforts to enhance democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe,” the statement read.

Follow Tendai on Twitter and Instagram @i_amten. – Al Jazeera