THE political silly season is now upon us again. More presidential candidates, including those from the lunatic fringe, are surfacing out of the blue with murky and dubious agendas.
Report by Herbert Moyo
Only last Thursday Mark Baard, claiming to be the leader of the until-then unknown Zimbabwe Republican Front party, threw his hat into the presidential ring announcing he would slug it out for the presidency in polls expected next year.
The presidency is a vision from God, Baard said, crediting his decision to contest on a prophecy by one Cindy Jacobs in the United States.
The 53 year-old Baard joins Kisinoti Mukwazhe, president of another virtually unknown outfit calling itself the Zimbabwe Development Party (ZDP) and Raymond Chamba, in a growing list of political upstarts who sprout during election time with all sorts of agendas, including suspicious ones, only to disappear after the vote.
However, United States-based Chamba (41) does not really see himself as the next president of Zimbabwe, but says he wants to give his ideas to Zimbabweans so that they can make a choice to gradually move away from the current politics which he said “border on pettiness”. Chamba surprisingly expresses admiration for President Robert Mugabe, saying he remains Zanu PF inside, but castigated factionalism within the party.
In a verbose if cryptic statement Chamba was quoted as saying: “The coddling of mediocrity and denigration of excellence has desecrated the hopes of our forefathers and dreamers thereafter. Let’s stop normalising the abnormal, the grotesque political freak-show that is the GNU (Government of National Unity) as presently constructed. Political pimps, old ringmasters, petty egoists and narrow ethno-centrists need to be put to pasture.”
Mukwazhe, a colourful dresser who is garrulous but gives the distinct impression of trying to project a dignified demeanour in keeping with his stated presidential ambitions, says his party must not be taken for granted.
He released a statement, which contains lunatic suggestions, to the Zimbabwe Independent in person two weeks ago announcing a “super callup cabinet” in which he named a 93-member cabinet he would form if he assumes power. Surprisingly it comprises most of those in the current cabinet!
While the glaring grammatical mistakes littering Mukwazhe’s seven-page statement and his eccentric proposals may provide some comic relief, the question is there some method behind the madness of the likes of Baard, Mukwazhe, Chamba and others who suddenly appear towards elections?
What is their agenda and who bankrolls them? Are they not state projects to create a semblance of democracy and confuse voters?
Political analyst and law lecturer Alex Magaisa says these candidates are attention-seekers who view election time as an opportunity to grab a few headlines and enjoy some publicity –– never mind how fleetingly.
“They are not in it to win, but for the thrill of being a candidate. They get their 15 minutes of fame and they are pleased with that,” Magaisa said.
Theatrics aside, the proliferation of presidential aspirants is seen as working against democracy as the parties split the opposition vote –– a scenario that suits the incumbent, Mugabe perfectly well. That is why many suspect some of these candidates are state-sponsored, one way or another.
Analyst Blessing Vava said although having many candidates and opposition parties is a normal aspect of democracy, a divided opposition is “an advantage to Mugabe and Zanu PF”.
Vava cited the 2008 elections when former finance minister and Zanu PF politburo member Simba Makoni suddenly joined the fray, grabbing at least 8% of the vote which possibly “robbed” MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai of votes needed to attain the 51% required to sweep into power.
Vava said those who voted for Makoni were clearly registering their discontent with Mugabe and could have given Tsvangirai an outright victory had they voted for him.
“They may have preferred Makoni to Tsvangirai but they collectively represented votes against Mugabe and if given the choice between one opposition leader and Mugabe, it is fair to imagine that they, or at least the majority, would have voted for the opposition leader, Tsvangirai in this case,” said Vava.
“So from that point of view, one could say that the Makoni votes benefited Mugabe in the final analysis.”
Although Zimbabwe lacked an opposition powerful enough to challenge Mugabe before Tsvangirai during the 2002 elections, the contestants served another useful function of giving Mugabe and Zimbabwe the veneer of being a democratic country where polls are held timeously with everyone free to challenge the incumbent.
Besides Tsvangirai, Mugabe has contested polls against the likes of the late nationalist Edgar Tekere, Wilson Khumbula, Shakespeare Maya, Paul Siwela, Langton Towungana and Simba Makoni..
Instead of perennial candidates, Zimbabwe mainly has fly-by-night contestants.
But if he loses the next elections, Tsvangirai, ironically still the most popular politician in Zimbabwe despite his current woes, might end up as a perennial candidate, one who runs for public office with a record of success that is infrequent, if existent at all.
Perennial candidates are often either members of non-major political parties or have political opinions that are not mainstream. Although Tsvangirai’s party is the biggest now and his views are mainstream, he has lost due to political violence and intimidation, as well as electoral theft.
However, if he loses the next polls, the MDC-T leader might eventually end up like Afonso Dhlakama of Mozambique who contested and lost four times in 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009.
Or Moumouni Adamou Djermakoye of Niger, Philippe Boulle and Wavel Ramkalawan of Seychelles, Ghana’s Edward Mahama, Ibrahim Lipumba of Tanzania and Zambia’s Godfrey Miyanda.
Most of the fly-by-night candidates often run without any serious hope of winning, but to promote their views or themselves instead. In Zimbabwe’s case, they also do it as fronts for sinister forces.
Some, like Siwela in 2002, may however overestimate their chances of winning out of delusions of grandeur when they have little by way of campaigning skill or voter appeal.
Apparently, Zimbabweans have dismally failed to learn from Kenya where a multiplicity of presidential candidates played into the hands of former president Daniel Arap Moi before he was defeated by Mwai Kibaki in 2002 after 24 years in power.
In a country where ethnicity is a crucial factor in politics, Moi who hailed from the minority Kalenjin tribe, was able to win the Kenyan presidency not so much because he was popular, but due to the array of opposition candidates who always split the opposition vote.
After learning its lesson in 2002, the opposition formed a strong coalition led by Kibaki, eventually ousting Moi.
Zimbabwe’s relatively simple age and citizenship requirements for presidential candidates have fed the proliferation of presidential aspirants which some analysts say promotes democratic rights of political participation and representation.
Apart from being a Zimbabwean citizen aged at least 40, one must be nominated by at least 10 people in each of the country’s 10 provinces to qualify as a presidential candidate.
While Zimbabwe’s next elections are a make-or-break affair for the main political parties, more unknown presidential aspirants could spring up, spicing up the polls with more comedy, although their ultimate agendas may be tragic.