Zimbabwe-Multiple Shades of A High Stakes Elections

By Prince Kurupati

Campaign posters on display. Photo International Crisis Group

The election fever has engulfed Zimbabwe. The main topic in most discussions by Zimbabweans from all walks of life at the present moment centre around the upcoming by-elections. Who among the competing contestants is going to win? Which party will scoop the most seats? Will the election be held in a free, fair and credible manner? What role are state institutions going to play in the upcoming election? Will the preponderance of the incumbency once again prove decisive in the upcoming by-elections? All of these questions occupy the minds of millions of Zimbabweans.

The election fever that has engulfed the country is so huge and magnificent that outsiders may think the upcoming elections are presidential elections. Alas, they aren’t presidential elections. Rather, they are just by-elections meant to fill vacant parliamentary and council seats. Such is the importance of these parliamentary and council by-elections that the leaders of all political parties have essentially embarked on nationwide campaigns for a straight two months with no rest.

The importance of the upcoming by-elections has largely been necessitated by three factors. First, the upcoming by-elections are being touted as a window-dresser to the upcoming 2023 harmonised elections. Second, the by-elections will be the first elections that the newly founded political party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) will compete in. third, the upcoming by-election is a litmus test for the role of state institutions in the country’s elections.

In just about a year, Zimbabweans will head to the polls to choose a new president as well as parliamentary and council representatives. The 2023 harmonised election is expected to be hotly and fiercely contested. This largely owing to the fact that it will be the first real test of the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa at the polls. Mnangagwa succeeded long-time leader Robert Mugabe in 2017 after a military coup. In 2018, the country held harmonised elections and Mnangagwa won. However, Mnangagwa during the election had a lot of political support as he was viewed as a bearer of hope following the ruinous tenure of Mugabe. Unfortunately, there have been many ill-calculated moves by Mnangagwa since his ascension to power something which has led severely affected his support base. Analysts, therefore, expect that the 2023 election will prove beyond reasonable doubt that any piece of goodwill the public has entrusted in him after the deposal of Mugabe has certainly waned. In the lead up to the 2023 election, analysts say the upcoming by-elections will be a window-dresser in showing just how much Mnangagwa has lost support.

For close to two decades after independence, the ruling party in Zimbabwe ZANU (PF) enjoyed total dominance on the political scene. Things however changed in 2000 soon after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Since the advent of the new millennium, ZANU (PF) had it tough as the MDC piled massive pressure. Nearly two decades after the formation of the MDC, its leader Morgan Tsvangirai passed away. Soon after his passing, succession battles quickly ensued. On one front, there was Nelson Chamisa, a popular young man viewed as the natural successor owing to his charismatic nature by the general populace. On the other hand, were three individuals claiming the throne citing procedural and legal processes. Namely, the three are Thokozani Khupe, Elias Mudzuri and Douglas Mwonzora. In the long run, Nelson Chamisa lost the battle to lead the main MDC party thus was forced to form his party. The party he formed is dubbed CCC and it’s going to participate in an election for the first time in the upcoming by-elections. Owing to the popularity of Nelson Chamisa – something already proven by the high numbers that grace his political rallies – analysts and the general public are eager to see how the newly formed CCC will perform in the by-elections.

For long, state institutions in Zimbabwe ranging from the media talk of state television and radio broadcasters, schools particularly school heads, the military, the police, the intelligence and many other departments have been accused of aiding and abating the ruling party during national elections. In the 2018 elections, not many people paid attention to the role of state institutions owing to the prevailing euphoria over the deposal of Mugabe. Five years later, however, the euphoria has died down and everyone is eager to see a smooth election devoid of interference of external actors. The upcoming by-elections will thus to a large extent demonstrate whether the state institutions will aid and abate the ruling party or not.

While there are key issues that the upcoming by-elections will answer, the general voting population in the country is not entirely interested in policies and substance. Rather, the voting population is sharply divided by two key factors. On one hand, there is the politics of the stomach spectrum while on the other hand, there is personality politics. A lot of people who support the ruling party to succeed in the upcoming elections as well as all other elections want to benefit from one thing or the other. Some are farm beneficiaries looking to safeguard their property while others benefit directly or indirectly from the ruling party or its policies. On the other hand, those who support the main opposition party largely do so because they are swayed by the charisma of the party leader Nelson Chamisa. While key issues are lying at the centre of the room, policies and substance will not decide the fate of the country. Rather, the need to safeguard one’s interests or the charisma of the opposition leader will decide the elections.

**Culled from April Issue of PAV Magazine

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