THEY came literally from all walks of life, in a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and sizes to stake a claim to Zimbabwe’s top job and in the end 23 will go into the hat in what is set to be a brutal fight for the coveted crown.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The majority, however, look like they are fly-by-night weaklings whose only inspiration to be on the ballot paper is to be recorded in history books as having at some point contested as president.
Chimurenga music singer Bryn Taurai Mteki said his ambition is to transform the lives of Zimbabweans, but asked how he is going to campaign in the election said: “I will just chill at home. I will not have any public campaign. I will wait for election day now that my papers have been accepted.”
It summed up the mentality in most of the presidential aspirants. They are going to be on the ballot for fun.
One of the aspiring candidates Peter Munyanduri of the New Patriotic Front struggled to get his act together including having to be assisted by journalists after his mobile phone battery died before he paid the requisite fee.
Former Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo used his Twitter account urging some to step aside: “The 23 presidential candidates. Waiting to see which of these will do right and respect the electorate by withdrawing asap!”
Political analysts argue the calibre and quality of most of the 23 aspiring presidential candidates leaves a lot to be desired while the more rabid critics have labelled the less glamorous candidates as “Zanu PF pawns paid to validate” President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime.
International Crisis Group consultant Piers Pigou accused some of the contestants as “delusional”.
“Most have minimal support bases and the election is likely to simply reinforce this reality. Twenty-three candidates is an unfeasible number of aspirants. For some candidates it is about principle and symbolism; for others it may well be little more than egotistical vanity project or something bordering in self-delusion,” Pigou said.
Political scientist Eldred Masunungure concurred and argued for strict criterion including steep fees for prospective presidential candidates.
“We need more rigorous requirements such as raising the fee from $1 000 to at least $10 000 and the number of nominators per province from 10 to maybe a 1 000 or above 500,” he said.
Masunungure acknowledged however, there have been notable improvements in the electoral environment.
“There is a major improvement, that must be acknowledged, give the devil his dues. But there are areas we can improve including, but not limited to access to the State media. Even from surveys that have been done, the reality is that Zimbabweans are happy with the biometric voter registration system, but there are still dark spots that tend to erode the credibility of the electoral process.”
Lawmaker and gender activist Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, who after indicating she was taking a hiatus from politics, again hogged the limelight appearing as MDC-T faction leader Thokozani Khupe’s chief election agent. Misihairabwi-Mushonga went one step further, as she was wearing a sweater inscribed unprintable words under a #MeToo campaign purportedly in protest against Khupe’s abuse by rival supporters during a court hearing over the use of the party name.
“We are happy this is the first time we have a credible female candidate. Our chances are good and this is historic,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
Pigou said candidates, especially with little noticeable support like NCA’s Lovemore Madhuku, could be hoping to play kingmaker in the event of a run-off.
“It will be interesting to see how many provide an honest answer to their candidacy, when they don’t stand a snowballs chance in hell of succeeding. This seems particularly the case with parties and political brands that have already demonstrated negligible levels of support, like the NCA.
“Some may be hoping the race goes to a second round and their support gives them some leverage ahead of a subsequent endorsement,” Pigou said.
But Coalition of Democrats presidential aspirant Elton Mangoma said his chances were as “good as anyone’s, if not better”.
“This is a unique election which is open. Rallies are not a measure of support and the MDC in particular has shown that in the past. It has failed to win power despite attracting tens of thousands to its rallies,” Mangoma said.
Asked what he thought about accusations that smaller parties were being used by Zanu PF to validate its win, Mangoma had no kind words.
“It is a narrative pushed by people who are actually working with the regime to divert attention from their nefarious activities. We have the history of these people, now they are working with (former President Robert) Mugabe and its public knowledge. They have admiration for the system now they are pointing fingers at others,” Mangoma said.
Another political commentator Sithembile Mpofu said while the expanded field could be an indicator that the political playfield was no longer a hard-hat area as was the case under Mugabe, the calibre of the candidates was a “cause for concern”.
“The number of candidates that have entered the presidential race demonstrates that the political arena is not as volatile as it has been in recent years. Individuals feel free enough to put their hats in the ring without fear of recrimination. In this sense, it is a very positive development and perhaps an indicator of people’s freedom to participate in the political arena.
“However, the number and the quality of candidates provides food for thought. The criterion provided for an individual to contest for the most important job in the country allow for pretty much anybody to contest,” Mpofu said.
She added: “Looking at the field of candidates, what struck me was the fact that the majority of the candidates seem to be under the impression that a president runs a country on their own. They have rejected calls to join with any coalition saying that the coalitions are weak and yet their political parties are not fielding a significant number of candidates for parliamentary seats.”
Pretoria University lecturer Ricky Mukonza said a “good number of the contestants lack intelligence and character” to run a government.
“Maybe that is what democracy gives when practiced without restrictions. I think that would be a good way to screen chancers.
“More than that, it would also be good to restrict people aspiring for the presidency or other high level political positions on the basis of what one has achieved in life. The reason for this is that entering in to politics should be seen as a way of giving back to society rather than a means of earning a living,” Mukonza said, blaming a failing economy for the deluge of candidates who flooded the nomination courts last week.
Pigou also argued the large number of candidates does not necessarily mean the presence of democracy.
“Very superficially, perhaps so, but more names on the ballot paper does not necessarily mean any real improvement in choice. I don’t think this either validates the process or reflects manipulation. Rather it reflects ongoing challenges in a compromised context.
“The cost of participating is relatively low; this facilitates opportunities for opportunists,” he said.
The fight in the end is between Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance challenger Nelson Chamisa plus 21 others.