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Zimbabwe In A Make Or Mar Presidential, Parliamentary Polls

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Zimbabwe will head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament today. This election is seen by many as a litmus test for the political discretion of Zimbabwean, who will decide between electing Emmerson Mnangagwa, who many believe is the same as Mugabe or electing the 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, whose humongous promises many see as inspired by youthful exuberance, OMONU NELSON writes

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his year’s election is the first since 1980 when white-minority rule ended in Zimbabwe for which  Robert Mugabe’s name won’t feature on the ballot paper. The despot was forced to quit after the military took control of the country briefly in 2017 and the government threatened to impeach him.

Another marked difference in this election from past is that Observers from the international community will be allowed to scrutinise the election for the first time since 2002. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has invited several observers from international and African countries in an effort to restore transparency and credibility to the election process.

About 5.5 million Zimbabweans have registered to vote out of which 200 000 are new voters, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Altogether, 23 candidates will contest the presidential election. Fifty-five parties are also contesting the parliamentary election, the biggest number by far in Zimbabwe’s post-colonial history.

The front-runners in the presidential race are Zanu-PF’s Mnangagwa, 75, and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor who took over leadership of the party after its founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, died in February.

The presidential term is five years and the president is elected by a majority. A second round of voting takes place if no candidate receives a majority in the first round.

More than 7 000 postal votes have already been cast in the election by members of the police, military and diplomats who will be on duty on election day.

Zimbabweans living abroad are not allowed to vote. The Zimbabwe Constitutional Court ruled on May 30 that Zimbabweans living abroad can’t be allowed to vote based on the residency requirements of the constituency-based electoral system which excludes citizens who cannot show residency in a particular constituency.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has banned a list of 16 symbols from use by political parties on their election campaign material. They include the elephant, buffalo, rhino, snake, owl, sword, axe, wreath and flaming torch. While no official explanation has been given, the symbols are officially banned by the Electoral Act. In June, the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) had to change their party symbol from an elephant to a shield in order to be able to take part in the election.

An investigation by a team of experts found more than 250 000 errors or so-called “ghost voters” on the voter’s roll. The ZEC has denied these allegations and said a new finger print ID system will catch duplicate voters.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the presidential race is becoming a two-way race in a strong field of presidential candidates. It would be most desirable if no party had a two-thirds majority in parliament and for the electorate to choose their preferred candidates on merit.

However, election fever characterised by a propensity for electoral infatuation by both the aspiring candidates and the perspiring electorate may see people throwing reason out the window and voting for parties which are most likely to win rather than candidates who can deliver. If this scenario obtains, the race will then become a two-man horse race between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa.

Recent opinion polls have suggested that the incumbent is likely to win the elections. However, there have been contesting views by numerous political analysts who have highlighted that there is a large number of people who have not indicated their preferred choice ahead of the forthcoming July 30 elections.

The cardinal advantage which Mnangagwa has in this presidential race is the advantage of incumbency. As the current President of Zimbabwe, he has to his personal advantage access to information, resources and personnel which no other candidate has. The sitting president has a head start because he has control (albeit debatably) of the key organs of the state such as the army and the civil service and to an extent the electoral process which on paper is run by an independent commission, (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)).

The incumbent’s control of the entire security apparatus is questionable, though, as the police and the intelligence apparatus are not fully under his control, but broadly and theoretically speaking they lie within the ambit of his influence or at least the purview of the ruling party which, of course, should not be the case but in reality has been the case under former president Robert Mugabe.   

It can further be denoted that Mnangagwa has admittance to state machinery and financial support from countries such as China as well as funds from the political parties, just to name a few.

The incumbent, in addition to the already existing resources, has also benefited from financial provisions that have been made under the auspices of the Finance Act, 2018 (No. 1 of 2018) under which they and the leading opposition parties in parliament received a budget vote to jump-start the two political parties’ campaigns ahead of the upcoming elections. In that connection, it can further be construed that Zanu PF and Mnangagwa will also benefit from over 210 vehicles allocated to each parliamentary candidate in addition to the hundreds of other vehicles they have secured, it is also likely that state resources will be used or abused to aid Mnangwagwa’s presidential bid.

The control of the military of course, is debatable, especially after the recent explosion at White City Stadium in Bulawayo as it is not abundantly clear whether the president has full control of the security apparatus of the country in the manner Mugabe did up to the 2013 elections. However, if we are to assume that he controls the military it then becomes very problematic and intuitively cumbersome for the opposition to dislodge him because of the militarisation of many civilian institutions including the civil service. In 2008, the military played a major role in Zanu PF retaining power by foul or fair means.

Control of state media: The public media, especially the ZBC, has continued to be an extension of the ruling party even with this being evinced by the constant coverage of the ruling party activities ahead of the general elections. However, in the last month or so efforts have been made to decoratively open space.

Opening of space: The opening of space for political parties and civil society in terms of freedom of association has been quite clear and some may feel that indeed this is a new era and not a “new error”.

Nelson Chamisa: Unlike his opponent, Nelson Chamisa possesses natural charisma which is key for any election. This is an attribute which Mugabe had and which Mnangwagwa does not have. He is able to relate to various audiences and effectively articulate issues at rallies

Generational vote: Chamisa, as a young person, has the potential to appeal to the youth registrants as 64% of registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 49. On the other side of the coin, this gain is also debatable because people do not vote in straight lines and there is a likelihood that some professionals may buy into Mnangagwa’s business rhetoric. However, the majority of Zimbabweans who will be voting were born after independence and will be keen to see a new leader with a new mandate taking over, seeing that Mnangagwa has been in cabinet since 1980 and cannot absolve himself from failures of the Mugabe regime.

Protest vote: Chamisa will also benefit from the fact that there has not been any significant economic growth and improvement in service delivery. Besides the “Zimbabwe is open for business” rhetoric, there is no actual tangible change that can attest to a new era. Admittedly, space has opened up and extortionate roadblocks have disappeared but economically the cash crisis persists and long bank queues are the order of the day. Economic growth takes time, as we know, but the people will judge a leader by what he has promised and by the economic deliverables they see. To this extent, Chamisa may gain from the protest vote arising from economic conditions

Further enunciated below are the weaknesses and the possible threats that can work against the two prominent presidential candidates:

Internal threat of the former G40 elements, many of whom won Zanu PF primaries. This may result in the bhora musango phenomenon with Zanu PF elements voting for Zanu PF MPs and councillors while voting for an opposition candidate in the presidential elections;

Emergence of the National Patriotic Front which may split the Zanu PF vote, especially the Mashonaland provinces.

Fissures resulting from the conduct of primary elections may result in the increase of Zanu PF supporters and disgruntled candidates mobilising against official party candidates and the official party candidate;

The past will continue to haunt Mnangwagwa as his role in the Matabeleland massacres will continue to haunt him and so will his alleged involvement in the 2008 election violence.

Internal fissures as a result of weak internal democracy and results of disputed primary elections. This may result in some party supporters voting for MDC-T led by Khupe, Nkosana Moyo and Mujuru;

Lack of consistent messaging: while his arch opponent’s “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra is clear and consistent, Chamisa, on the other hand, has not been very consistent in articulating what he stands for and appears to change his messaging depending on where he is or who he is addressing. This, as a result, can be a strength but can also be construed as a weakness;

Lack of resources: unlike in previous elections, there are little resources for opposition parties and his party in particular.

A clear threat to Chamisa’s chances will be the military’s willingness to roll over and allow an opposition candidate to win after last November’s coup. The establishment is unlikely to let this happen; and Confusion arising from the party name as many, especially in rural areas, may not know the difference between the MDC Alliance and the MDC–T.



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