HARARE, Zimbabwe – Amid a biting economic crisis, the southern African country of Zimbabwe is gearing up to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in just over two months.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has set Aug. 23 as the date for nationwide voting, with Oct. 2 designated for a possible presidential runoff.
The vote pits Mnangagwa, 80, who is seeking a second straight term, against Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor who leads the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
Apart from the president, voters will also elect lawmakers for the 350-seat parliament and some 2,000 local council members.
Mnangagwa defeated Chamisa in the 2018 presidential race, a result that was disputed by the opposition and led to violent protests that killed at least six people and injured dozens more.
Chamisa’s claims of election manipulation and rigging were eventually dismissed by the Constitutional Court, and Mnangagwa took office promising reforms.
Five years on, changes have yet to materialize and there is widespread concern that Mnangagwa and his ruling ZANU-PF party will skew the playing field in their favor.
“I think the key concerns of the opposition are around access to the voters’ roll, violence, and the abuse of the electoral processes for the benefit of ZANU-PF,” political analyst Rashweat Mukundu told Anadolu.
The issue of voters’ rolls is one that Chamisa and the CCC have raised repeatedly, demanding a thorough audit and steps to make them more accessible.
Mukundu said there is a persistent fear that ZANU-PF’s “security-led civilian structures … (would) intimidate voters, especially in rural areas.”
That ties in with the “conflation of rural and urban centers to dilute the urban vote,” he said.
Chamisa is also on record saying that the CCC stands at a disadvantage because Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF control the state media, police, other security forces and the judiciary, alleging that all of them are used to clamp down on any form of dissent.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) issued a statement regarding the “murky operations” of the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ), an organization affiliated with the ZANU-PF.
It cited an instance where two people were arrested “after they allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation with FAZ members, who were stationed at some Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) polling stations … designated … as inspection centers for a voters’ roll inspection exercise.”
There is also criticism over a recent bill passed by parliament that proposes harsh punishments for “unpatriotic acts.”
The bill, which still needs to be signed by President Mnangagwa, proposes jail sentences of up to 20 years for offenses that could include meeting representatives of a foreign country to discuss issues such as sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Despite the challenges and ZANU-PF’s apparent upper hand, Chamisa still has the “brightest chances to win the presidential election,” according to Wurayayi Zembe, head of the opposition Democratic Party.
“He has age on his side, experience in public service and as a professional lawyer, as well as being a religious leader as a pastor. To top it all, the public perception is that Chamisa won the 2018 election,” Zembe told Anadolu.
He said people have no hope from Mnangagwa, who has been in positions of power for 43 years.
“There is nothing new to be expected of him. Another five years in office will just make it 48 years on the job for him.”
Source: Anadolu Agency