Candidate selection process haunts CCC
By Tambanavo Chamanyawo
The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), a new political party in Zimbabwe led by Nelson Chamisa, is in the midst of a candidate selection process for the 2023 elections, which are expected to be held between July and August.
The process, which involves citizens nominating candidates for parliamentary and local government seats through an online platform or physical forms, and an independent panel vetting and validating the nominations, has been touted by Chamisa as a novel and inclusive way of choosing representatives who are competent, credible, diverse, and loyal to the party’s vision and values.
However, the process has also been criticised by some as a witch-hunt designed by Chamisa to impose candidates of his choice and eliminate potential rivals or dissenters within the party. Some of the critics allege that Chamisa is targeting senior party members such as Tendai Biti, Charlton Hwende, and Job Sikhala, who have been vocal about some of the party’s challenges and shortcomings. They also claim that Chamisa wants to surround himself with young people without any experience or clout, who will not challenge his authority or decisions.
One of the contentious issues in the process is the criteria and standards that are used by the panel to select candidates. According to CCC website some of the criteria include:
- Demonstrating loyalty to God, CCC, and Chamisa
- Having no criminal record or pending cases
- Having a tertiary qualification or equivalent experience
- Having a track record of community involvement and political activism
- Having a clean social media profile and no history of hate speech or violence
- Having a clear vision and strategy for their constituency
- Having a sound understanding of CCC’s policies and principles
Some of these criteria have raised eyebrows among some observers and aspirants, who question their relevance, validity, and objectivity. For instance, how does one prove loyalty to God or Chamisa? How does having a tertiary qualification guarantee competence or credibility? How does having a clean social media profile reflect one’s character or values? How does the panel verify and measure these criteria?
Some of the aspirants who have been nominated by citizens have also expressed their frustration and dissatisfaction with the process, citing delays, technical glitches, lack of communication, manipulation, or bias by some panel members or party officials. Some have also accused Chamisa of interfering with the process and influencing the panel’s decisions. Some have threatened to withdraw from the process or contest as independent candidates if they are not satisfied with the outcome.
- The Independent Candidate Selection Panel (ICSP) is composed of civil society leaders, academics, and professionals who are not affiliated with any political party or interest group. The panel is responsible for setting the criteria and standards for selecting candidates, as well as verifying and validating the nominations12.
- The panel is headed by Rashid Mahiya, the executive director of Heal Zimbabwe, a non-governmental organization that promotes peace-building and social cohesion in Zimbabwe2. Mahiya is also a human rights activist and a former student leader who was arrested and charged with subversion in 2019 for allegedly inciting public violence during the January 2019 protests.
The CCC candidate selection process is supposed to be completed by mid-May, when the final list of candidates will be announced. The process will determine not only who will represent CCC in the 2023 elections, but also how CCC will position itself as a credible and viable alternative to ZANU-PF, the ruling party that has been accused of mismanaging the economy, violating human rights, and rigging elections.
Chamisa’s popularity as a charismatic and youthful leader remains high among many Zimbabweans who are disillusioned with ZANU-PF’s rule and corruption. However, he also faces many challenges and obstacles in his quest to unseat Mnangagwa, who claims to have won the 2018 presidential election against Chamisa in a disputed poll. Some of these challenges include:
- The fragmentation and infighting within the opposition camp
- The repression and intimidation by ZANU-PF and its security apparatus
- The lack of electoral reforms and transparency
- The voter apathy and fatigue among some citizens
- The economic hardship and instability that affect people’s livelihoods
Chamisa needs to demonstrate his ability to unite his party and the opposition behind a common agenda and strategy. He also needs to address some of the concerns raised by his critics regarding his leadership style, his respect for constitutionalism and human rights, and his readiness to govern. He also needs to communicate his vision and policies clearly and effectively to the electorate.
The CCC candidate selection process is a critical test for Chamisa and his party. It could either enhance or undermine their appeal and legitimacy among voters. It could either showcase their democratic credentials or expose their authoritarian tendencies. It could either strengthen their internal cohesion or deepen their internal divisions.
The process could be seen as either a witch-hunt or a democratic exercise depending on one’s perspective. The question is: what perspective will prevail among Zimbabweans? And what impact will it have on CCC?
Chamisa’s relationship with Biti, Hwende and Sikhala:
- Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti have a long history of rivalry and mistrust within the opposition movement. Biti was one of the founding members of the original MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai, but he broke away in 2014 after accusing Tsvangirai of dictatorship and incompetence. He formed his own party, the MDC Renewal Team, which later merged with other splinter groups to form the MDC-T led by Welshman Ncube. Biti and Ncube rejoined forces with Chamisa in 2017 under the MDC Alliance coalition, but they retained their separate party structures and identities. Biti was appointed as one of the three vice-presidents of the MDC Alliance by Chamisa, but he has often clashed with him over policy and strategy issues. Biti has also been critical of some of Chamisa’s decisions and actions, such as his refusal to join the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) initiated by President Mnangagwa, his unilateral appointment of party officials without consulting other coalition partners, and his failure to address the internal divisions and conflicts within the party. Biti has also been accused by some of Chamisa’s loyalists of being a sell-out who works with ZANU-PF and foreign powers to undermine Chamisa’s leadership and legitimacy.
- Nelson Chamisa and Charlton Hwende have a close relationship that dates back to their days as student activists at Harare Polytechnic. Hwende was one of Chamisa’s key allies and supporters during the power struggle that ensued after Tsvangirai’s death in 2018. He was instrumental in mobilizing the party structures and organs to endorse Chamisa as the interim leader of the MDC-T and later the MDC Alliance. He was also elected as the secretary-general of the MDC Alliance at the party’s congress in 2019, beating his rival Douglas Mwonzora. However, Hwende has also faced some challenges and criticisms in his role as the party’s chief administrator and strategist. He has been accused by some party members and officials of being incompetent, corrupt, arrogant, and divisive. He has also been blamed for some of the party’s poor performance in some elections and by-elections, such as the 2020 Harare mayoral election, where he allegedly imposed his preferred candidate over others. He has also been at loggerheads with some of the party’s senior members, such as Biti and Sikhala, who have questioned his authority and influence over Chamisa.
- Nelson Chamisa and Job Sikhala have a complicated and contentious relationship that has been marked by periods of cooperation and confrontation. Sikhala who is currently in prison since last year on charges of trying to incite violence, was also one of the founding members of the original MDC led by Tsvangirai, but he left the party in 2009 after being suspended for allegedly plotting a coup against Tsvangirai. He formed his own party, MDC-99, which later joined forces with Biti’s MDC Renewal Team. He rejoined Chamisa’s MDC Alliance in 2017 and was elected as the national vice-chairperson of the party in 2019. Sikhala is known for his radical and outspoken stance against ZANU-PF and Mnangagwa, often calling for mass protests and civil disobedience to force them out of power. He has also been arrested several times on charges of treason, subversion, incitement, or public violence for his utterances or actions. However, Sikhala has also been critical of some of Chamisa’s decisions and actions, such as his reluctance to confront ZANU-PF head-on, his failure to address the internal divisions and conflicts within the party, and his lack of consultation and communication with other party leaders and members. Sikhala has also been accused by some of Chamisa’s loyalists of being a loose cannon who undermines Chamisa’s leadership and legitimacy by making reckless statements or moves that expose him and the party to legal or political risks.