THE ongoing Zanu PF and MDC internal party squabbles translate to a huge cost to the country with the struggling Treasury being forced to meet the high costs of by-elections at the expense of crucial development projects and social services.
The large-scale purges in the ruling Zanu PF party — spawned by the serious infighting precipitated by the bitter succession fight to replace President Robert Mugabe when he eventually goes — are a serious liability to the fiscus at a time the country faces a protracted economic crisis.
Zimbabwe has been in more or less a perpetual election mode from as far back as 2000 and more so 2006 when a group led by the late retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru thwarted Mugabe’s plans at the annual Zanu PF Goromonzi conference to extend his term by two years from 2008 to 2010 outside an election.
While the group unsuccessfully pushed for Mugabe to retire in 2008 when his term expired, they revolted against him when he sought a new term during the 2008 harmonised elections under an operation code named Bhora Musango (anyone but Mugabe).
Mugabe for the first time lost in the first round of presidential polling to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai who fell just short of the required 50+1 majority, but prevailed in a bloody sham run-off election boycotted by his main rival.
Sadc-brokered negotiations led to the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009 comprising Zanu PF and two MDC formations. Although the government managed to stabilise the sinking economy through the Short Term Recovery programmes, Sterp 1 and Sterp 2, the country was for the duration of the GNU (2009-2013) four years kept in perpetual election mode, thanks to Mugabe who regularly demanded elections to end the acrimonious coalition government.
Barely two years after general elections held in June 2013 the nation has to gear up for by-elections in several constituencies after the MDC-T recalled 15 elected legislators from parliament who rebelled against Tsvangirai to form a splinter opposition group, the MDC Renewal Team last year.
The recalled MPs were Tendai Biti (MP Harare East constituency), Willias Madzimure (Kambuzuma), Paul Madzore (Glen View South), Solomon Madzore (Dzivarasekwa) Lucia Matibenga (Kuwadzana West), Samuel Sipepa Nkomo (Lobengula), Reggie Moyo (Luveve), Evelyn Masaiti (proportional representation), Bekithemba Nyathi (Mpopoma/Pelandaba), Moses Manyengavana (Highfield West), Albert Mhlanga ( Pumula), Roseline Nkomo (sholotsho North), Settlement Chikwinya (Mbizo), Judith Muzhavazhe (proportional representation), and Gorden Moyo (Makokoba).
Elsewhere, Zanu PF infighting has shown no signs of letting up despite the expulsion of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and her allies, forcing by-elections in several constituencies.
Last week a Zanu PF politburo meeting expelled seven more Mujuru loyalists, while 13 others were suspended for five years. More suspensions will be announced, according to the party’s secretary for information and publicity, Simon Khaya Moyo.
In Mashonaland East, those expelled were former provincial chairman Ray Kaukonde and former Women’s Affairs secretary for the commissariat Olivia Muchena, while in Masvingo former secretary for production and labour Dzikamai Mavhaire, former deputy secretary for economic affairs Kudakwashe Bhasikiti and former Central Committee member Claudius Makova were also booted out.
In Mashonaland Central, Mbire National Assembly representative David Butau and Kudakwashe Gope were also kicked out.
According to the constitution, Chapter 7 (158) states: “Whenever a vacancy occurs in any elective public office established in terms of this Constitution, other than an office to which section 158 applies, the authority charged with organising elections to that body must cause an election to be held within 90 days to fill the vacancy.”
Following last week’s expulsions, government is forced to carry its constitutional obligation to hold by elections, bringing them to 17 in less than one and a half year since the July 31 general elections.
The by-elections come at a steep cost.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) requires close to US$50 million to hold all the by-elections proclaimed by Mugabe thus far, an amount which government could have directed to other developmental projects were it not for the power struggles within the different political parties.
While government has a constitutional mandate to hold the by-elections, the amount being used could have, for instance, gone a long way in improving the education sector.
The US$50 million needed for the by-elections was the same amount used in 2009, through the United Nations Children’s Fund and development partners, to procure close to 13 million textbooks distributed to all schools countrywide in a bid to put education back on track.
The Zimbabwean government, through the National Aids council, also spends close to US$50 million annually to procure Anti-retroviral drugs for HIV patients.
Currently, the Zanu PF government is so cash-strapped that it has for the last three months been failing to remit about US$50 million deducted from civil servants’ salaries for payment of their debts, from clothing and furniture retailers to bank loans and pensions, life policies and medical aid subscriptions.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the Zanu PF government wants to divert the people’s attention from real issues affecting them on daily basis through by-elections.
“It is sad. The Zanu PF government wants to continue diverting people’s attention from crucial issues such as the economy and breakdown of rule of law through the perpetual election mode,” he said.
“By keeping people in election mode they deflect attention and scatter the accumulating anger that would likely lead to mass action. Zanu PF is good at diversionary tactics and land invasions were one of these.”
Saungweme also said by firing the legislators the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC unwittingly succumbed to a Zanu PF ploy meant to distract people’s attention from real issues.
Another analyst, United Kingdom–based law lecturer Alex Magaisa said Zanu PF is doing its piecemeal expulsions so that it wins people’s confidence when it emerges victorious in one-sided by elections.
“There are at least three aspects to why Zanu PF is doing this. They are managing the firing process to avoid a split and to avoid creating huge reservoirs of disgruntlement at one go,” Magaisa said.
“They do not have a solution to the current problems so focussing on the by-elections will keep them busy and be a scapegoat from the electorate’s questions.”
“The third reason is that the more Zanu PF holds elections and keeps winning them, it gives the impression that they are doing well and are still supported by the people even though the economy is in free-fall.”
The Zanu PF government which swept to power after the controversial July 2013 general elections tainted by rigging allegations has failed to build on the gains made during the unity government amid company closures which saw close to 6 000 people losing their jobs in 2014 alone.
This is despite promising to create two million jobs during its five-year tenure.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure said what needs to be understood is the motive of Zanu PF in keeping the nation in election mode. “Between 2009 and 2013, when the economy was more stable the government could not carry out by-elections saying it had no money. This time around the economy is in a free-fall, the cashless government which fails to pay its own employees on time is calling for by-elections which come at a cost,” Masunungure said.
“This is a government which is insensitive to the needs of its people,” he said adding: “The motive is clear that Zanu PF wants to grab all the seats and even push for constitutional amendments.”
With most of the opposition parties boycotting the by-elections to press for electoral reforms, Zanu PF is likely to have its way at the polls albeit at an unsustainable cost to the limping economy.