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Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader quits, claiming his party was hijacked by president's ruling party

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa addresses a press conference in Harare, on Aug. 27, 2023.   -  
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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP


Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader said Thursday he has quit his party, accusing the country's ruling party of hijacking the organization and causing the removal of dozens of his members of parliament and councilors.

Nelson Chamisa, 45, was President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s main rival in the 2018 and 2023 disputed elections. On Thursday, he accused Mnangagwa of decimating the opposition by authoritarian means.

In a 13-page statement on his social media platforms and on the party’s page on X, formerly Twitter, Chamisa criticized the economically and politically troubled southern African country’s record of authoritarianism.

“With immediate effect, I no longer have anything to do with CCC (Citizens Coalition for Change),” he said.

Chamisa said he would remain active in public service and told supporters “there are fresh things we need to do,” urging them “to rally behind fresh politics” as he prepares to announce his next step.

Chamisa formed the Citizens Coalition for Change party in 2022, breaking from the country’s longtime opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, after the High Court in the capital, Harare, ruled that he was not the legitimate leader.

He contested last year's elections that he later described as a “gigantic fraud, garnering 44% of the vote to Mnangagwa’s 52.6%. His party took control of all major cities and towns and also won enough parliamentary seats to deny the ruling ZANU-PF party a two-thirds majority. That would have allowed the ruling party to change the constitution to possibly allow a third term for Mnangagwa.

But the 45-year-old has struggled to hold his party together since the elections after a man claiming to be the party’s secretary-general began removing elected officials with support from parliamentary authorities, the government and the courts. Chamisa said his party didn’t even have a position of secretary-general and described the man, Sengezo Tshabangu, as an imposter and fraudster.

Tshabangu hasn’t been available for interviews with international media outlets but in interviews with local media he said he took over the post on an interim basis after Chamisa failed to create party positions.

Chamisa has been unsuccessful in stopping the recalls of MPs and councilors.

The courts have also repeatedly ruled to remove the fired officials from the ballot each time they have attempted to contest by-elections to reclaim their positions under the CCC name, resulting in ruling party candidates taking over seats in traditional urban opposition strongholds.

On Thursday, the charismatic lawyer and pastor said he has had enough.

“ZANU-PF can take everything that we sweated for, take the party and its name, take the money and whoever is a beneficiary of this fraud,” he said.

The ruling party has denied that it has a hand in the recalls, or that Mnangagwa is angling for a third term once he completes his second and final term in 2028, attributing the developments to opposition infighting instead.

The opposition and global and local human rights groups have in the past accused Mnangagwa, 81, of using violence, arrests, detentions and the judiciary to crush dissenting voices despite promising an end to repression that characterized his predecessor, the late long-ruling Robert Mugabe, who was in power for 37 years.

Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after the army-backed 2017 coup with promises of democratic reforms. He won his first term, narrowly beating Chamisa in another disputed election in 2018 and is now being accused of being as repressive as his predecessor and mentor.

A former Mugabe ally, Mnangagwa denies allegations of clamping down on the opposition. He insists that his government has improved the political environment and human rights situation.

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