Frantic efforts to get President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, to iron out their differences through face-to-face discussions have collapsed with the 75-year-old Zanu PF leader saying he will only meet with his 40-year- old challenger in the ballot box on July 30.
With the main political rivals pulling all the stops in their respective campaigns to win the forthcoming polls, the political environment has become tense, amid indications that the ballot would be a close contest between Chamisa and Mnangagwa.
The latest survey by the respected Afrobarometer shows that both Mnangagwa and Chamisa will not have an outright victory, something that would, under the country’s Constitution, trigger a run-off.
According to the survey, Mnangagwa has 40 percent of the support while Chamisa lags behind with 37 percent.
Both candidates can benefit from fence sitters, the poll indicated.
According to the survey, Chamisa has cut Mnangagwa’s lead to just three percent and also gaining a foothold in rural areas that were for long regarded as a stronghold for the ruling party Zanu PF.
Chamisa has repeatedly called for a meeting with his main rival to discuss the MDC Alliance’s concerns over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which they accuse of pandering to the whims of Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF.
The talks were expected to diffuse rising tension ahead of next week’s watershed elections in which a record 23 presidential aspirants are running for the top office.
But Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, told the Daily News on Sunday that the president cannot just meet the MDC Alliance leader and exclude 21 other presidential aspirants.
“I don’t want to be involved; we don’t have the time to validate him (Chamisa). There are many people who write to the president, why would we focus on one person, now is he the most important person in the elections, why are you only talking of two people in a race with 23 candidates? The conversation should be in the ballot,” said Charamba.
But Chamisa said Mnangagwa is now running scared after he had initially indicated a willingness to engage all opposition parties.
The MDC Alliance leader has insistently said that even pugilists in a boxing match first verbally engage and even shake hands before they start fighting.
His spokesperson, Nkululeko Sibanda, said Mnangagwa has refused a meeting with the opposition because he is scared of issues that could be raised against Zec.
“ED is not worried by Zec or the courts because the courts might favour him. It is clear that ED has access to Zec, to the printing of ballot papers and also the server, something that we in the opposition do not have. All the international observers have spoken of engagement of political parties but he is refusing, he has been approached but he doesn’t like a meeting, and the question is why is he afraid of engagement?” asked Sibanda.
The mooted talks have collapsed despite a recent meeting between Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance.
A fortnight ago, Mnangagwa’s emissaries — led by Zanu PF secretary for legal affairs Paul Mangwana — met a team from the MDC Alliance to try and find possible solutions to this month’s poll preparations amid concerns from the opposition that Zec is falling short of expectations.
There have been disagreements over the printing of the ballot papers as well as controversy over the postal voting.
Chamisa’s chief elections agent, Jameson Timba, confirmed to the Daily News on Sunday that they met with Mangwana to level the electoral playing field and also put in place mechanisms that would ensure Zimbabwe will not slide into anarchy.
“Indeed, last week Friday we met with Zanu PF to discuss the electoral process and we are still expecting their response. We had to engage them because they are in government and we must first discuss before we get into the ring,” said Timba.
But faint hopes on the talks were effectively doused on Friday by Mnangagwa.
While addressing a rally in Mutare, Mnangagwa seemingly backed Zec which has come under fire from opposition parties over a litany of charges, including the opaqueness surrounding the printing, storage and distribution of ballot papers, and also the shambolic voters’ roll that presently contains hundreds of name duplications and phantom voters.
Mnangagwa told his supporters that parties aggrieved with Zec should approach the courts.
Chamisa’s spokesperson said there was no need to approach the courts because some within the judiciary are also compromised.