THE weekend rural district council elections in more than 800 wards should be a major test for contesting opposition parties in the Zanu PF strongholds only 18 months ahead of the presidential election in 2008.
With Zanu PF having already won 485 wards unopposed, opposition parties will have to produce a dramatic performance to make significant inroads into the ruling party’s political turf.
Despite their continued failure to break into Zanu PF-dominated communal lands, the opposition parties have claimed that they are gaining ground. Ward election results are important because they are nationwide and cover grassroots constituencies where the majority of voters live.
Spokesperson for the Tsvangirai camp, Nelson Chamisa, said his party would win in those wards that his party is contesting unless the poll was rigged.
“The people have been very clear that they are tired of Zanu PF councillors who have failed to develop their local areas,” Chamisa said.
“They are tired of Zanu PF councillors who have engaged in corrupt activities and abused council equipment and machinery. They are tired of Zanu PF councillors who have politicised food aid by denying maize and grain to people of other political affiliations.”
Political commentators however expressed reservations about the possibility of opposition parties making a major dent in Zanu PF’s support base in tomorrow’s election.
Head of the department of political administration at the University of Zimbabwe, Dr Eldred Masunungure, said the outcome of the rural district council elections would confirm what is already known about the dynamics of support for the major political parties.
He said no major upsets were expected with probably an exception in Kadoma mayoral election. The Kadoma Central constituency is currently a MDC bastion although Zanu PF won it in a by-election after the death of MDC MP Austin Mupandawana in 2003. The MDC won it back in 2005.
The Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC has fielded a mayoral candidate against the incumbent, Fani Phiri of Zanu PF who has held the post since 2002.
Masunungure said whatever the outcome of the weekend elections, it would not have a bearing on the 2008 presidential election.
Zanu PF national commissar Elliot Manyika this week forecast a resounding victory for his party, echoing party chairman John Nkomo’s predictions in the party publication, The Voice, that they would win.
Chamisa said the MDC leadership had over the past few weeks engaged in an intensive nationwide rural campaign to drum up support ahead of the rural district council elections.
He said they addressed rallies in rural Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North since last week.
Masunungure said the opposition had a long way to go before it could dent Zanu PF’s rural support.
“Unless the opposition can spring a surprise, Zanu PF will confirm its dominance in rural area in these elections. It has never launched such a serious campaign in local elections as it did this time.”