- A total of 133 vacant seats in parliament and local authorities are up for grabs.
- The by-elections could serve as an indicator of the possible outcome of general elections due next year.
- Nelson Chamisa has avoided legal squabbles and launched Citizen's Coalition for Change.
Zimbabwe's most popular opposition figure, Nelson Chamisa, on Monday announced a change of name for his Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance).
Chamisa's party will now be known as Citizen's Coalition for Change (CCC).
Chamisa and some of his senior officials began their political careers in the MDC, a worker-inspired union movement, at the turn of the century under the leadership of the late Morgan Tsvangirai.
Unsurprisingly, the new party's message is the same as the MDC, calling for change. They need change and their first test will be in March when they contest by-elections under the new CCC brand.
A by-election in March
A total of 133 vacant seats in parliament and local authorities are up for grabs. Around two dozen parliamentary seats are vacant as a result of a Supreme Court ruling that Chamisa ascended to the leadership of the MDC Alliance illegally.
A further four parliamentary seats will be contested as a result of legislators who died in the past three years.
After the Supreme Court ruled that Thokozani Khupe was the legitimate MDC T leader who should have been in charge of the party as it became part of the MDC Alliance, she went on a recalling spree of members of the MDC Alliance who, before the Alliance, belonged to the MDC T. This also resulted in 117 vacancies in local authorities.
An election is a business of numbers. As of late last year, civil society organisations and the opposition had been spearheading a voter registration exercise.
They aimed to register first time voters who were below the age of 18 in 2018 and convince those eligible voters who were apathetic about national politics then.
They also attempted to weed out ghost voters, most of whom were dead people still on the voters' roll. But the campaign did not go as planned, with civil society organisations arguing that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was an auxiliary of Zanu PF and was frustrating their efforts.
After the spirited voter registration exercise late last year, ZEC revealed the drive had been underwhelming, with only 2 000 new voters signing up. A fortnight ago, ZEC apologised to the nation for its failure to spread voter registration to the remote areas of the country - something the civil bodies claimed was a form of vote rigging.
But the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an election advocacy group, had pleaded that the government should allow a special voter registration campaign.
Unfortunately, the proclamation of the election date meant that voter registration was now closed.
Importance of the election
After the heavily disputed plebiscite of July 2018 that resulted in the army opening with live ammunition at MDC Alliance supporters in Harare and a failed court challenge by the MDC Alliance, legitimacy of polls has dogged Zimbabwe and the governing Zanu PF.
In January 2019, barely five months into power, President Emmerson Mnangagwa faced resistance when the public rioted against a 130% increase in the price of fuel and a skyrocketing cost of living.
In typical fashion, the government suppressed riots, blocked the internet and many died. Press freedom deteriorated and basic liberties for universal suffrage were frustrated.
In July 2020, planned riots were muzzled through a crackdown on civil society and mass kidnappings that grabbed international attention during the strictest Covid-19 lockdown.
With this in mind, many feel the by-election will be a forerunner of what is to happen during next year's general elections. The by-elections provide fertile ground for the opposition to grow its support base.
However, Zanu PF believes they have done fairly well in power and any slight sign of gaining ground in this by-election would be a testimony to that.
Obstacle in Chamisa's way
Douglas Mowonzora, a seasoned opposition stalwart, made a sudden u-turn to fight Chamisa, a former comrade in the struggle.
Mwonzora was initially part of the MDC Alliance that broke away from the MDC T led by Thokozani Khupe after Tsvangirai's death in February 2018.
Mwonzora would later return to Khupe's outfit after the July 2018 elections. While there, he plotted his rise to take over the party from Khupe, who had already initiated recalls on Chamisa loyalists thanks to a controversial Supreme Court ruling.
As the man in charge of the legally recognised MDC, he had been frustrating Chamisa at every corner. Mwonzora has the ear of Mnangagwa and was largely viewed as "the ruling party (Zanu PF) in the opposition".
Mwonzora wrote to the ZEC informing the electoral body that he would be contesting the elections as MDC Alliance, the brand that Chamisa and a collection of opposition parties used during the July 2018 elections and even used today as a political party.
While it's been argued this sought to confuse the electorate and would probably lure votes away from Chamisa, some observers believed it's an opportunity for him to rebrand and bring to the fore a new movement divorced from Tsvangirai.
Citizen's Coalition for Change
In October last year, it was leaked to the media in Zimbabwe that the MDC Alliance was planning on changing its name.
The name Citizen's Coalition for Change was discussed in political circles and it's hardly been a secret.
Chamisa and his allies had moved away from the traditional MDC opposition colour of red, taking up yellow and gold instead.
Instead of the open palm, the party now had a one index finger up logo.
Chamisa's urban supporters said: "We know what we want and where we belong." As such, rebranding didn't confuse them. But they feared that their rural supporters might face challenges in understanding changes in the movement.
Hence, there were plans underway in the CCC to take their message to rural and remote areas to explain why they decided to change its name and look.
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