For many Zimbabweans, the hope brought by announcement of elections, on August 23 has overshadowed after President, who has portrayed himself as a reformer. Current circumstances indicate that, he is much more repressive than the man he helped overthrow from power.
President Emerson Mnangagwa, is anticipated to face a formidable battle from the 45-year-old Nelson Chamisa. Additionally, the 350-seat parliament and about 2,000 local council positions would be decided on the election day.
According to the opposition and certain human right groups, the ruling party enjoys an unfair advantage in the round-up to the elections. They list repressive laws, detention of opposition figures, meeting restrictions, acts of violence, biased media coverage, and reported anomalies with the voters’ register.
Moreover, concerns have been raised on a bill that was passed by the legislature, and awaiting the President signature to become law. According to the legislation, “unpatriotic acts” such attending a meeting with foreign agents, where topics like sanctions, or overthrow of government are being discussed, could attract up to 20 years in prison.
The bill has been justified by the government, as being necessary to safeguard “national interests.” The Zimbabwean ruling party has utilized sanctions by United States, regarding human rights abuses, as election campaign messages, ever since they took power in the 1980s. They have frequently accused the opposition with working with the U.S. to strengthen the sanctions in place.
According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights ( ZLHR), the bill has “a chilling effect of silencing” opposition. They claimed that, People can be punished “for merely attending a meeting where sanctions are considered,” but this clause and others attached to it are “vague, lack certainty, are imprecise, and are thus prone to abuse by law enforcement.”
It already looks scary to criticize the President or the governing ZANU-PF party in the area. ZLHR claimed, it has been offering free legal assistance to scores of people, who have been taken into custody for “insulting” the President, or for tweeting, singing, or participating in a protest.
Challenge Over Voter’s Register
The voter’s register has been another point of contention, which Chamisa described as “a perennial challenge.” The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has assured that, errors with the voter’s register would be rectified before the election day. The commission however has rejected claims of connival with the ruling party.
Chamisa asserted that, there is a genuine opportunity despite the odds. “Some say, are you to boycott the election. We will not boycott. 2023 is a big moment, an opportunity for Zimbabweans to realize change,” the opposition leader said. The Citizens Coalition for Change, which he founded in January of last year, after severing ties with the nation’s veteran opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, will face its first significant test.
According to Zimbabwean political analyst Alexander Rusero, Chamisa anticipates that, a successful showing in August, will boost the reputation of the new party.
“The opposition genuinely believe they are being frog-marched into an election they are sure to lose. But remember it is a new political outfit. Elections will secure Chamisa’s party the legitimacy of being the most formidable opposition and get a seat at the table in case of any post-election political settlement.”Alexander Rusero, Zimbabwean Political Analyst.
Citizens Reminisce Election Violence
Munyaradzi Mushawatu, an electrician in the capital, Harare, was both thrilled and uneasy after President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently declared that, national elections would be held on August 23.
“I have voted in every election since 1990. I am eager to make my voice heard. I’m ready,” Mushawatu declared. But as he remembered how the nation’s “skewed” electoral atmosphere has persisted for decades, his enthusiasms fade away.
Only the election date is different. The same old challenges still exist, the 56-year-old said. Elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by claims of fraud, violence, and intimidation of opposition figures, ever since the country gained independence from white minority control in 1980.