ZANU PF’s just-ended chaotic primary elections have a profound meaning and serious implications for the party and the Zimbabwean polity.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The primaries give an insight into civil-military relations within the party and society, the demographic shift in electoral terms, an emerging generational consensus and voting patterns, and what they portend for the next critical general elections expected in July.
First of all, the Zanu PF primaries exposed the party’s ruthless Hobbesian state of nature. For social-contract theorist Thomas Hobbes, the state of nature is characterised by “war of every man against every man”, a constant and violent condition of competition in which each individual has a natural right to everything, regardless of the interests of others.
Existence in the state of nature is, as Hobbes famously states, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The only laws that apply here are self-preservation instincts. This is what was at play in the Zanu PF internal polls.
However, the most important lesson to be drawn from the primaries is that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling party were left heavily exposed to the point of risking defeat in the upcoming general elections.
Zanu PF held its primaries on April 29, which spilt into days after as the fallout threatens to linger on for months, to select candidates for the general elections.
However, the internal elections — largely conducted by the military — were marred by a series of problems: logistical difficulties, delays in delivering ballot papers and other material, missing names of candidates, mix-ups, violence, manipulation, vote-buying and fraud.
The chaos was also manifested through poor organisation, lack of preparedness, widespread indiscipline, absence of cohesive central control and coordination, lack of capacity to print and deliver on time accurate ballot papers, a flawed verification process, and failure to secure and adequately equip voting centres with ballot boxes and voters’ registers.
A number of Zanu PF political heavyweights and Mnangagwa’s allies, including his advisor war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who fought hard to ensure former president Robert Mugabe was ousted, were defeated.
Leading lights of the military coup which brought in Mnangagwa to power such as Mutsvangwa, highly instrumental in the Mugabe removal process, Paul Mangwana, the chief legal adviser by his own admission and Samuel Mumbengegwi, who used his foreign affairs portfolio to mobilise regional and international support for the takeover, were routed, signalling that Zanu PF and its leaders can be booted out. The internal contest also showed battle lines over power, control and influence are drawn between the new civilian party leadership led by Mnangagwa and the military wing commanded by his deputy retired General Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga.
The fallout prompted widespread outrage and uproar among senior party officials and angry losing candidates.
Alarmed by the situation, top Zanu PF officials did not hesitate to call a spade a spade — they warned Mnangagwa and the ruling party might lose general elections.
Mutsvangwa, who lost in Norton, warned: “It is inconceivable that the President (Mnangagwa) will win given that the party’s members have been largely disenfranchised.”
Yesterday Zanu PF primaries candidate for Makokoba in Bulawayo Peter Nyoni, Small and Medium Enterprises minister Sithembiso’s husband, who lost to party heavyweight Tshinga Dube, also warned the same.
The primaries further showed there is a new form of brinkmanship between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. The relations between civilian and military leaders are getting increasingly strained.
Given that the party has been hit by several waves of factionalism, infighting and purges, the primaries further fuelled fragmentation.
Coupled with the demographic shift among voters’ profile in favour of the youth and hence defeat of the old guard, an emerging generational consensus and likely concomitant changes in voting behaviour and patterns, Mnangagwa and Zanu PF face a mountain to climb ahead.
They might well be staring defeat in the face unless they urgently change the deteriorating situation before things spin out of control.