Zanu-PF is open for business, to borrow from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s catchphrase.
In this instance it is the “business” of elections and electioneering.
Last week, the CVs of thousands of aspiring internal election candidates were submitted to Zanu-PF National Headquarters for vetting ahead of primary elections.
This process precedes the launch of the ruling party’s 2018 manifesto.
All indications point to a record number of candidates participating in primaries, in a show of mature internal democracy within Zanu-PF.
This also comes with greater transparency around candidate selection process as compared to previous years.
In past primaries, it was commonplace to hear allegations of candidate imposition, vote rigging and vote buying.
Internal elections were among the most divisive issues in Zanu-PF, second only and related to the fights around the succession of ex-party leader Mr Robert Mugabe.
As a result of incompetence and ineptitude, the party did not fare as well as it could have in national elections as a consequence of imposition of unpopular candidates.
President Mnangagwa’s leadership has brought with it a new way of doing things.
There is now a semblance of orderliness and a calculated approach around primaries, unlike the the situation in 2013.
Initially scheduled for June 24, 2013, the primaries ended up being a three-day affair, whose full results were only released two days later.
National elections were to be held on July 31, and the party had put itself in an unenviable position of conducting a potentially divisive internal poll just a month before D-Day.
The selection process was also unnecessarily bureaucratic.
Candidates were required to submit their CVs at inter-district meetings before they were taken up to the Provincial Elections Directorates responsible for vetting before transmission to the National Elections Directorate.
The cumbersome process, in turn, left room for manipulation as low level officials were accused of disqualifying otherwise deserving office aspirants ostensibly on factional grounds.
The National Elections Directorate considered applications and then took them to the Politburo for affirmation.
Were it not for a poor and disjointed opposition, Zanu-PF could have been given a good run for its money.
Now, with general elections due in a couple of months, there are lessons aplenty to be drawn from past experiences.
This year, Zanu-PF has to come up with a solid list of 2 280 candidates to fill seats in the National Assembly (210), women’s National Assembly quota (60), Senate (60), and local government (1 953).
To put this into context, the number of CVs submitted by Mashonaland East alone outstrips the entire field of candidates who will represent Zanu-PF on Election Day.
The task is undoubtedly immense.
To lay the foundation, comprehensible and fair criteria was set for aspiring candidates, with a clear distinction between the different those aspiring for offices from local government to Senate.
In addition, a clear and transparent application process was put in place and the application process has gone through with minimum fuss.
University of Pretoria PhD scholar and political commentator Mr Alban Gambe says: “It is important that the process of vetting is held in a transparent manner.
“There is also need for mechanisms to be put in place where disqualified candidates can appeal a decision made against them.
“While manifestos and election messaging play a massive role in determine success in an election, in Zimbabwean politics it is usually the individual candidate and the party they represent that draws votes. It is therefore important that this process is managed delicately to ensure that only the best candidates are on the ballot paper come election day.”
In a departure from the past, candidates must campaign together to thwart vote buying, intimidation and factionalism.
Zanu-PF National Political Commissar Lieutenant-General (Retired) Engelbert Rugeje has said: “Losing candidates should be campaign managers for the winning candidate. That’s the new position. Those that will come out second best during primary elections should help the winners in their campaign.
“We don’t want to hear that losing candidates are campaigning against those that would have been elected to ensure the party wins resoundingly. We should be united and work together for the good of the party.”
Lastly, as part of the new regulations, voting in primaries will be open to all members on the party’s record books. This means Zanu-PF will also be able to gauge the strength of its core support ahead of the general election and strategise accordingly.
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