Stage set for bruising August 23 polls

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

ZIMBABWEANS head to the polls on August 23 after President Emmerson Mnangagwa made the long-awaited proclamation yesterday.

Mnangagwa’s proclamation in an Extraordinary Government Gazette set the stage for what critics say will be a bitterly contested election while the country is battling a raging economic crisis.

The 80-year-old Zanu PF leader’s announcement means he will seek to extend his ruling party’s decades-long hegemony over the country in the backdrop of a worsening economic crisis underpinned by a rapidly falling currency, rising inflation and worker discontent.

Opposition figures fear that the August vote will be a replica of the first post-Robert Mugabe poll in 2018, which was marred by allegations of rigging and violence by the security forces.

“By virtue of the powers vested in the President ..., I do, by this proclamation, fix the 23rd day of August, 2023, as the day of the election to the office of President, the election of members of the National Assembly and election of councillors,” Mnangagwa said through Statutory Instrument 85 of 2023.

The Nomination Court will sit on June 21 at the High Court in Harare to register aspiring presidential candidates.

Parliamentary candidates and aspiring councillors will be registered on the same date at various centres across the country.

Mnangagwa also set October 2 as the day for the presidential run-off election should it become necessary.

He will face-off against his fiercest rival, Nelson Chamisa, who heads the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and ran him close in a closely-contested 2018 election whose outcome had to be certified by the courts in Mnangagwa’s favour.

The election left Zimbabwe deeply polarised and the country has struggled to heal.

Zimbabwe’s local currency lost about 60% of its value against the United States dollar in May alone, from $1 059 to the greenback at the start of the month to $2 557 on the auction market two days ago, a drop of 58,6%.

On the black market, it shed 54% of its value, from $1 950 to $4 200 as of yesterday.

The proclamation of the election date has, however, been met with mixed feelings, with some opposition political parties expressing disappointment that the country is going for elections without reforms or remedying of flaws in the voters roll.

“There are only political concerns that the President shouldn’t have hurried to pre-empt Parliament’s finishing amendments of the Electoral Bill,” constitutional lawyer and leader of the National Constitutional Assembly party Lovemore Madhuku told NewsDay.

“He is creating a very bad test.

“He could have waited and would have reduced the timeline because the Act allows him to get to 14 days instead of 21, but there is about 60 days between the nomination date and the election date.

“He could have proclaimed, let’s say a week from now after Parliament has finished the amendments.

“There was no reason to hurry and in doing it now, he has made a clear decision.”

Although Parliament will sit until the eve of the election, it is now constitutionally impossible to effect any or all the electoral reforms that have been proposed in the Electoral Amendment Bill such as to stop use of drivers licences to vote, provide for a youth quota in the National Assembly and a time limit for the withdrawal of constituency candidates.

CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said her party was ready for the polls and will continue pushing for electoral reforms.

“We have pushed very hard for reforms, including mounting political pressure for the release of an electronic voters roll, the independence of Zec [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission], the security of the vote and the voter, media freedom as well as respect for political freedoms,” Mahere told NewsDay.

“We continue to press for those reforms, which are mandated by the Constitution.

“We know that where there’s a will, there’s a way. We conducted the biggest voter registration campaign, which saw over two million new voters added to the voters roll.

“Now that we are here, we demand that Zec and all State institutions demonstrate readiness by implementing electoral reforms, especially the release of the voters roll and ensuring the electoral environment complies with the constitutional standard of a free, fair and credible election.

“Zanu PF can never win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. This is why they’re panicking.

“For our part, we are ready to win Zimbabwe for change.

“From the inception of the citizens’ movement, we have been laying the groundwork for that victory.

“We have executed a mass grassroots mobilisation campaign, mugwazo, which has seen the CCC penetrate each of the 36 000 villages in the rural areas, all towns, all cities, all provinces and the diaspora.

“We have also made it a priority to secure citizen representatives so that every community in Zimbabwe is represented by a competent ethical MP and councillor.”

MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora, who has a pending case at the High court challenging the delimitation report used to demarcate constituency boundaries by Zec, said the proclamation of the date showed disrespect of the Zimbabwean law.

“President Mnangagwa saw it fit to proclaim the dates well knowing that the delimitation report is being challenged in a court of law,” Mwonzora said.

“It shows disrespect of the courts and of the law, but it also means that the things that we are complaining about are not going to be resolved before the election. So it is a sad day; it is a bad proclamation.

“This proclamation comes without the amendment of the Electoral Act having been passed.

“Therefore, this election is going to happen in terms of the old law and some of the innovations regarding youth quota and women quota may not legally be there in this election.”

Mwonzora said the MDC national executive would be meeting this weekend to decide their position on this election.

“The previous position was reached at congress on December 18, 2022 with the effect that we will participate in the election and field all candidates, but circumstances have since changed and we want to have a collective leadership advice as to what the final attitude of the MDC would be,” he said.

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