Zimbabwe held crucial by-elections on Saturday with the opposition in turmoil after being excluded from voting lists and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s party looking to tighten its grip on power.
Nine by-elections were scheduled to be held but most opposition candidates were taken off electoral lists by courts in a chaotic runup to the voting.
No voting was held in a Harare district, one of the nine due to vote, because the ruling ZANU-PF’s candidate was unopposed, residents said. Polling stations were locked up.
Munyaradzi Kufahakutizwi, the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) candidate who lost his national assembly seat and was then barred from standing again, met with supporters outside his home.
“We have witnessed that there is no rule of law. The constitution, the courts have been captured,” he told AFP, adding that the episode was a “bad omen” for the future.
• Courts evict opposition –
Standing nearby, CCC supporter Joseph Chirwa said that ZANU-PF was “pushing us to be violent but our leader has always preached peace”.
A nationwide election in August saw the 81-year-old Mnangagwa seal a new term and his ZANU-PF secure 177 of the 280 national assembly seats with the CCC taking 104.
But two months later, 14 CCC lawmakers were kicked out of parliament and nine by-elections ordered. The other five seats are decided by proportional representation.
An obscure political figure, Sengezo Tshabangu, declared himself the CCC’s “interim secretary general” and said that the 14 were no longer party members and could not keep their seats.
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, a former preacher, protested that Tshabangu was not a party member and that no expulsions had been agreed.
But the parliament speaker from ZANU-PF still ordered new elections.
Courts have ruled this week, confirmed by the Harare High Court on Saturday, that the opposition candidates could not stand again in their old seats.
The CCC has accused ZANU-PF of using Tshabangu in a “nefarious” campaign to remove opposition candidates from ballot papers.
It has also accused the ruling party of involvement in deadly attacks on its activists. One party worker for Kufahakutizwi in Harare was abducted and killed last month.
The ruling party, which has most to gain from picking up more seats, has denied any role in Tshabangu’s activities.
However ZANU-PF is just 10 seats away from securing a two-thirds majority in parliament that would allow it to change the constitution.
Observers say the party wants to scrap a limit on presidents serving more than two terms, that would allow 81-year-old Mnangagwa to extend his rule.
The authorities did not immediately say when the election results would be released.
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