HomeOpinionEditor's Memo: By-elections: Time to nurture democracy

Editor’s Memo: By-elections: Time to nurture democracy

ELECTIONS are one of the basic tenets of democracy. Zimbabwe periodically holds polls as dictated by the supreme governance charter  –  the Constitution.

The right to vote, which was one of the main reasons for the liberation struggle against disenfranchisement of the black majority, remains sacred. People have the right to choose their representatives from the president, parliamentarians and councillors.

But Zimbabwe, since 1980, has a worrying trend of political violence as the Zanu PF government deploys the state security apparatus to intimidate the opposition.

As the country prepares for the March 26 by-elections, police brutality and flagrant selective application of the law against the opposition has re-surfaced. Legal minds call it lawfare.

Apart from lawfare; brute force was recently captured in a video that went viral on social media of purported police officers viciously attacking opposition activists.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces a herculean task in reshaping Zimbabwe’s democratic space and champion human rights. The forthcoming by-elections are his litmus test.

By-elections will be held for 28 parliamentary and 105 council vacant seats with the two main parties Zanu PF and the recently formed Nelson Chamisa-led Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance led by Douglas Mwonzora will also participate although the party failed to field candidates in some constituencies. A smattering of smaller political outfits will also contest.

However, the run-up to the watershed by-elections, seen as a dress rehearsal to the 2023 harmonised elections have been marred by alleged reports of police brutality.

A heart-rending video of law officers purportedly bludgeoning CCC activists who were nabbed for disobeying traffic police has raised fresh fears of politically motivated violence. The 13 CCC activists allege that they were denied food, water and medical attention. Such a violation of basic human rights should not be entertained.

Zimbabwe has a long dark history of political violence, dating back to the colonial era. Political conflict is retrogressive. It has torn the socio-economic fabric.

Inter-party violence from president Robert Mugabe’s iron fist rule led Zimbabwe into an international pariah. Mnangagwa has the chance to redeem the mess by punishing police officers and any politicians engaged in violence.

It’s time to ditch the shameful history of political violence. A peaceful pre-2018 period is enviable. A repeat of the same is beneficial. Zimbabwe had made strides towards political tolerance.

However, we seem to be sliding back on upholding human rights as police are making it a nightmare for opposition parties to freely meet as provided by the Constitution.

The violence added with the stringent conditions given by police for the CCC rally held by Chamisa in Highfield on Sunday last week, which includes barring the party from bussing its supporters to the venue when Zanu PF and MDC are not subject to the same restrictions when it holds its rallies, is a damning indictment on government’s efforts to nurture democracy.

If anything, it frustrates objectives for successful re-engagement with Western countries who have often raised complaints over human rights abuses. The decision by the European Union (EU) this week to extend sanctions on Zimbabwe is telling.

“The situation in terms of respect for human rights has not improved in Zimbabwe,” the EU said in a statement Monday. “The EU is concerned about these developments. Perpetrators of human rights violations should be swiftly brought to justice to end impunity. The recommendations of the (Kgalema) Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry have not been followed substantially and need to be implemented as a matter of priority and urgency,” the EU said.

As a cornerstone for liberal democracy, political tolerance has to be observed as the country cannot afford to be retrogressive.

It is prudent for government to decisively deal with perpetrators of intra and inter-party political violence. The emerging disturbing violence cases have to be nipped in the bud before they become a national security issue. Peace and nation building augur well with economic stability.

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