As the 2023 elections approach in Zimbabwe, opposition parties find themselves facing mounting challenges and suppression from the government.
With rallies banned, posters removed, and limited access to media, concerns rise over the fairness and integrity of the upcoming polls.
The Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), the main challenger to the ruling ZANU-PF party, has faced numerous obstacles in its bid to end the 43-year grip on power by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his allies.
The CCC, led by the charismatic lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa, has seen dozens of its events blocked by the police, its posters removed by ZANU-PF supporters, and its activists arrested on various charges.
The party has also complained of being given little airtime on national television, which is dominated by ZANU-PF propaganda.
In contrast, Mnangagwa has been holding massive rallies across the country, attracting thousands of supporters with free food, T-shirts and entertainment.
He has also received endorsements from celebrities such as US boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, who flew to Zimbabwe at the invitation of a controversial gold dealer and ZANU-PF candidate.
The CCC’s campaign strategy has been to reach out to voters door-to-door, especially in urban areas where it enjoys more support.
The Patriotic Act threatens to further curtail essential freedoms, raising questions about equal participation of candidates and the overall democratic process.
Citizens will cast their votes to elect the president, legislature, and municipal councils in a bid to determine the country’s future direction.
A prominent issue raised by the opposition is the limited airtime given to them on national television. Access to media plays a crucial role in ensuring a free and fair election, as it allows candidates to communicate their policies and messages to the electorate.
The lack of equitable media coverage puts opposition parties at a severe disadvantage, making it challenging for them to compete on a level playing field with the ruling party, ZANU-PF.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an independent election-monitoring organization, stresses the importance of equal participation of candidates in the electoral process. Democracy thrives when all candidates have a fair opportunity to present their agendas and compete for the public’s support.
However, in Zimbabwe’s political landscape, such equal participation remains elusive, prompting concerns about the credibility of the upcoming polls.
In its position paper on the role of the media in elections, ZESN says the media’s performance in covering elections in Zimbabwe – in terms of professional conduct and quality reporting – has consistently fallen short of international, regional and local standards of good journalism.
“While the country’s electoral law and media regulations guide election-related content, enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance have been weak,” says ZESN
Political analysts expressed scepticism about the prospects of a free and fair election. The ruling party’s actions have raised doubts about the credibility of the process, with fears of vote rigging widespread among the opposition.
While there are twelve candidates vying for the presidency, the contest primarily revolves around President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seeking re-election at the age of 80, and Nelson Chamisa, the 45-year-old leader of CCC.
Parliament’s recent passage of laws that silence civil society groups and restrict criticism of the government adds further concerns about democratic freedoms.
Critics argue that these measures effectively muzzle dissenting voices, stifling the country’s democratic progress and making it difficult for opposition parties to voice their concerns and engage in meaningful dialogue with the electorate.
The Patriotic Bill, looming over the political landscape, adds to the growing apprehensions. If passed, this bill could tighten the government’s grip on power and limit fundamental rights, further curbing any semblance of a level playing field in the political arena.
Opinion polls paint a varied picture of the electoral landscape, reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the outcome. With rising discontent due to the country’s dire economic situation, Chamisa hopes to ride a wave of public dissatisfaction, promising a vision of change and prosperity.
However, President Mnangagwa’s strong rural support base and celebrity endorsements have added to the unpredictability of the race.
— 263 Chat media