Government is caught between a rock and a hard place on whether to use force in quashing escalating anti-Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) protests or stick to its desire to project itself as a reformed administration, analysts said.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration came to power via a de-facto coup in November last year, it immediately set out to win the hearts of the international community which had isolated the country in protest over then president Robert Mugabe’s angry mob policies.

Mnangagwa has particularly sought to project himself as a liberal by inviting foreign investors to come to Zimbabwe to do business with no strings attached under the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.

The opposition has thus been unleashing supporters into the streets, protesting an irregular playing field and Zec’s alleged bias.

MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, who is due to meet officials from Zec today has threatened to disrupt the polls if he is not allowed access to the ballot paper printing, storage and its distribution.

Chamisa is set to start a one week vigil at the Zec offices in Harare until voting day — a development which could provoke escalation of tensions.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News yesterday said pressure from the opposition has left the ruling party in a catch-22 situation, not so sure if it should continue with its soft approach to the MDC Alliance or go into its default mode of using heavy-handed methods to quash the protests.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said even if Mnangagwa wanted to retreat to the Zanu PF default mode of violence, he “entrapped” himself by marketing himself as a liberal of some sort.

“If he was not genuine when he sold a transformative image of himself, now he is in a catch 22 situation because he set in motion a gear that is not irreversible especially when he chose to invite radical foreign observers such as the European Union and the United States who will cast an eagle eye on the nitty gritties of the electoral process,” Masunungure said.

He suggested that while Mnangagwa might have hoped to regulate the observers in the long-run, “they seem to have outgrown his capacity to influence them because they were allowed in unusually huge numbers”.

That Mnangagwa is now viewed by many as a born again Christian has made it difficult even for him to relate with some radical elements within the ruling Zanu PF party who might not necessarily have met their Damascene moment, Masunungure said.

“He is keen on translating his rhetoric into practice and there is nothing he will do that will undermine the born again Christian tag that he has allowed himself to carry so he is compelled by circumstances to act in a certain way even when it doesn’t suit his power retention strategy,” he said.

Another analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, opined that the liberal image that Mnangagwa is projecting whose hallmark includes focusing on the economy, allowing opposition to access all areas including previously no-go-areas and inviting western election observers, was not genuine.

“He did all these to gain acceptance from within and outside and present himself as a departure from Mugabe but the long and short of it is that he is doing all this to retain power at all costs and if rigging fails he will go for violence and the bullet,” Saungweme said adding that “you cannot expect a man who rolled tankers seven months ago to remove a 94-year-old to allow a 40-year-old to wrest power from him”.

– NewsDay