The fragility and vulnerability democracy: The case of Zimbabwe’s opposition

Citizens Coalition for Change leader, Nelson Chamisa

2) Guarding zones of autonomy against it: This means that the opposition should protect and expand spaces where civil society can operate independently from state control. This includes supporting and collaborating with various civil society groups, such as human rights organizations, media outlets, religious groups, trade unions, professional associations, women’s groups, youth groups, etc., that share its vision and goals; defending and promoting the rights and freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and information for all citizens; creating and maintaining alternative platforms and channels for communication and mobilization, such as social media, online forums, radio stations, newsletters, etc., that can bypass the regime’s censorship and propaganda; and fostering a culture of civic engagement and participation among its supporters and allies, such as through education, training, awareness-raising, etc.

The recent recalls of opposition MPs in Zimbabwe by a self-proclaimed acting secretary general of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party Sengezo Tshabangu have exposed the fragility of democracy and the vulnerability of the opposition in the country.
The recalls, which have been effected by the ruling ZANU PF party’s Speaker of Parliament, who is the secretary of legal affairs in its Soviet-style political bureau (Politburo) intends to reduce the opposition’s representation and increase the ruling party’s chances of achieving a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Whereas the recalls may be misconstrued to be a microcosm of internal opposition CCC squabbles, they feed into a broader dual securocratic state consolidation project.
That of countering the internal and external legitimacy challenges exposed by the opposition on one hand, and on the other hand weakening the opposition’s power in parliament to pave way to President Mnangawa’s third term power ambitions.
If the court endorses these recalls and ZANU PF wins the by-elections, this would enable ZANU-PF to amend the constitution, entrench its power without any checks and balances and ultimately give President Emmerson Mnangagwa a third term. This appears to be the broader political strategy by ZANU PF’s Mnangagwa faction.
Explaining the Politics of Recalls Given the above scheme of things, the recalls can be theoretically located in the context of a securocratic state-building strategy by the ruling ZANU-PF party, which seeks to consolidate its power and eliminate any potential challengers.
A securocratic state-building strategy is one that prioritizes security over liberty, favours stability over peace, and synthesizes liberal and illiberal precepts to achieve developmental but non-doctrinaire ambitions. In other words, it is a strategy that uses coercion, manipulation, and patronage to create a loyal and compliant citizenry, while pursuing selective economic reforms and social engineering to project an image of modernity and progress. In Zimbabwe, the regime has used various tactics, such as violence, intimidation, manipulation, co-optation, and infiltration, to undermine the opposition’s legitimacy, cohesion, and effectiveness.
The recalls of CCC MPs fit in this securocratic state- building strategy that seeks to create a de facto one-party state, where ZANU-PF can enjoy a two-thirds majority in Parliament and amend the constitution at will. In the current context, it appears Mnangagwa is attempting to have a third term by removing the two-term presidential term limit enshrined in the constitution.
The fact that CCC leadership wrote a letter to the Speaker of Parliament earlier than Tshabangu that sought to prevent unofficial and sporadic recalls and was ignored implies that ZANU-PF is either behind the recalls or conniving with disgruntled CCC individuals to facilitating those recalls to reap the attendant benefits of a fractured and thus weakened opposition. Indeed, section 158(3) of the constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that a contested by-election should be conducted after an MP is recalled in terms of section 129 (1)(k).
However, three key considerations make a ZANU-PF capture of a significant number of lost constituencies in its bid to regain a two-thirds majority in Parliament very likely. Firstly, Zimbabwean electoral history has been very informative regarding the electoral apathy among opposition support bases mainly in rural areas and ZANU-PF’s strong coercive apparatus in the rural constituency in most by-elections.
By-elections will likely result in ZANU-PF regaining control of unstable rural constituencies such as Beitbridge West and Lupane East where it lost with a mere 96 and 235 votes respectively. For instance, in Makoni RDC ward 33 where there was a tie between CCC and ZANU-PF councillors turned into a landslide victory of ZANU-PF in a by-election.
Thus, when apathy in opposition support base is triangulated with intensified coercion usually deployed by ZANU-PF and its securocratic cousins now operating under a civilian cover, the For Ever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) in rural constituencies during by-elections, 96-250 votes are likely to shift from CCC to ZANU-PF in each constituency.
This will affect some rural constituencies won by the opposition.
Secondly is the presence of disgruntled opposition lieutenants who were disabled from contesting as independent candidates in the August 2023 election. These are likely to populate the by-election list and divide the opposition support among themselves and CCC candidates.
This is most likely in constituencies with unresolved disputes over leaders who lost nomination contests in the party. A by-election enables the incumbent to concentrate effort, resources, strategy and coercion to a smaller number of constituencies opposed to a general election where resources are over stretched. This makes coercion more thorough and effective.
The recalls undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the opposition, which has been challenging the 2023 election results and calling for regional intervention. By exploiting the legal loopholes and internal divisions within the CCC, ZANU-PF seeks to effectively neutralize its main rival and silence its dissenting voices. Fomenting internal decohesion in the opposition diverts the opposition’s focus from advocacy on the stolen poll and attendant illegitimacy of ZANU-PF regime to attending internal divisions that ZANU-PF facilitates through capture of critical state institutions such as legislature and the judiciary.
While the recalls can be seen as part of ZANU-PF’s securocratic state-building strategy, which seeks to eliminate any potential challengers and create a de facto one-party state, the opposition’s internal contradictions as exposed in the Tshabangu debacle have enabled ZANU- PF’s machinations to undermine the broader democratic struggle in Zimbabwe.
In this regard, the opposition should have a clear institutional and Weberian ideal type bureaucratic organisation to address internal decohesion and possible infiltration by the regime. Implications on Democracy and Viability of Opposition The implications of these recalls on democracy and viability of the opposition in Zimbabwe are dire and daunting.
Democracy in Zimbabwe is at risk of being eroded and weakened by ZANU- PF’s securocratic state-building strategy, which seeks to eliminate any checks and balances, civil liberties, and political pluralism. In this context, the opposition in Zimbabwe is at risk of being fragmented and weakened by ZANU-PF’s divide-and-rule tactics, which seek to sow discord and distrust among its leaders, members, and allies.
The recalls have serious and far reaching implications for the future of democracy and viability of the opposition in Zimbabwe. Firstly, the recalls undermine the principle of representative democracy, which is based on the idea that the people elect their representatives to act on their behalf and express their interests in parliament. The recalls deprive the people of their right to choose their representatives, and violate the mandate that they gave to the opposition MPs in the August 2023 elections. The recalls also disregard the will and wishes of the CCC members and supporters, who have not been consulted or involved in the decision-making process that led to those recalls.
The recalls thus erode the trust and confidence of the people in the democratic system, and create a sense of alienation and apathy among them. Secondly, the recalls weaken the role of parliamentary democracy, which is based on the idea that parliament is the supreme legislative body that makes laws and policies for the country, and holds the executive accountable for its actions. The recalls reduce the number and influence of opposition MPs in Parliament, and increase the dominance and control of ZANU-PF MPs.
They also diminish the diversity and pluralism of views and voices in parliament, and limit the space for debate and deliberation. The recalls thus compromise the quality and legitimacy of legislation and policy-making, and enable ZANU-PF to amend the constitution at will. Thirdly, the recalls threaten the prospect of competitive democracy, which is based on the idea that democracy thrives when there are multiple parties and candidates that compete for power and offer different alternatives to the people. The recalls damage the credibility and popularity of the opposition, which has been challenging ZANU-PF’s legitimacy and performance since the 2000 elections. They also create divisions and conflicts within the opposition, which may lead to fragmentation and defection.
This is another key agenda of the recalls by ZANU PF and its securocratic strategists. The recalls thus weaken the capacity and readiness of the opposition to contest future elections, and give ZANU-PF an unfair advantage over them. Lastly, the recalls endanger the vision of inclusive democracy, which is based on the idea that democracy is not only about elections, but also about participation, representation, and empowerment of all segments of society, especially those who are marginalized and disadvantaged.
The recalls affect some of the most prominent and influential opposition MPs, who have been advocating for various issues and causes that affect their constituencies, such as human rights, social justice, economic development, national unity, etc. They affect some of the most diverse and representative opposition MPs, who reflect the ethnic, regional, gender, generational, and professional diversity of Zimbabwean society. The recalls thus deprive these segments of society of their voice and agency in parliament, and undermine their interests and aspirations.
Best way forward to devise a strategy for a democratic opposition to counter the securocratic state-building project of ZANU-PF, it is crucial to analyze the situation of the opposition in relation to the other components of the authoritarian system. According to Stepan (1990), the dynamics of authoritarian regimes and the prospects for democratic transition also depend on how the regime interacts with the democratic opposition.
He proposed a framework for understanding these interactions based on the roles and relationships of the core regime supporters, the coercive apparatus, passive supporters, passive opponents, and active opponents. He identified five critical tasks for the opposition to achieve in order to weaken and transform the regime, ranging from simple to complex:
1) Resisting integration into the regime: This means that the opposition should not accept any offers or inducements from the regime to join its ranks or to abandon its principles. The entails refusing to participate in any sham elections or dialogues that are designed to legitimize the regime or to co-opt its leaders; refusing to recognize or endorse any decisions or actions taken by the regime that violate the constitution or the rule of law; refusing to allow any of its members to defect or collaborate with the regime for personal gain or protection and refusing to compromise on its core values and demands, such as free and fair elections, human rights, and refusing to compromise on its core values and demands, such as free and fair elections, human rights, and democratic reforms.

3) Disputing its legitimacy: This means that the opposition should expose and criticize the regime’s flaws and failures and offer alternative visions and values. This includes challenging the regime’s claims to represent the national interest or to deliver development and stability, highlighting the regime’s corruption, repression, violence, incompetence, and mismanagement, exposing the regime’s capture of state institutions, such as the judiciary, the legislature, the security forces, etc., and its manipulation of electoral processes and outcomes and presenting the opposition’s own agenda and program for democratic change and development that can address the needs and aspirations of the people. This is accompanied by the opposition’s ceaseless appeal to regional and international norms and standards of democracy and human rights and seek support and solidarity from external actors.

4) Raising the costs of authoritarian rule: This entails the opposition’s increased pressure and risks for the regime through various forms of nonviolent democratic resistance and lawful advocacy civil disobedience programs both at home and abroad. This includes organizing and participating in constitutionally permissible protests, strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, etc., that can disrupt the regime’s normal functioning and challenge its authority; targeting specific institutions or individuals that are instrumental or complicit in the regime’s rule, such as through naming and shaming, lawsuits, etc; encouraging defections and dissent within the regime’s ranks, such as by offering incentives or guarantees for those who switch sides or speak out and preparing for scenarios of escalation or confrontation with the regime, such as by developing contingency plans, security measures, legal defenses, etc.

5) Creating a credible democratic alternative: This means that the opposition should build a broad and inclusive party that can articulate and implement a democratic agenda for change. This entails overcoming its internal divisions and conflicts and unifying under a common leadership and strategy; strengthening its internal democracy and accountability mechanisms to prevent infiltration and co-optation by the regime’s agents; enhancing its communication and coordination with its grassroots supporters and allies to prevent confusion and demoralization; demonstrating its capacity and readiness to govern in a democratic manner by formulating clear policies and proposals on various issues and sectors and building trust and confidence among the public by showing integrity, competence, responsiveness, and representation.

However, in order to use these action points effectively, the opposition must also address its own internal contradictions that have enabled ZANU-PF’s machinations to undermine its credibility and cohesion.
The opposition must resolve its leadership disputes and unify its ranks under a common vision and strategy. The opposition should strengthen its internal democracy and accountability mechanisms to prevent infiltration and co-optation by ZANU-PF agents.
The opposition must also enhance its communication and coordination with its grassroots supporters and allies to prevent confusion and demoralization. The opposition should maintain its vigilance and resilience against ZANU-PF’s attempts to intimidate and manipulate it through legal or extra-legal means. The opposition must also seek regional and international solidarity and support for its cause.