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How the Zim poll was lost and won

THE recent Zimbabwean elections have generated unprecedented excitement for many stakeholders as a defining moment for the future of Zimbabwe.

With the economy in a chronic state of recession, runaway inflation at more than 165 000% (the highest in the world), a life expectancy of 37 (the lowest in the world), unemployment at 82% and persistent shortages of critical supplies, the state of the economy would to a large extent have influenced the decision of a significant number of voters. 
Even that “common man” in the remote but “infamous” Uzumba and Maramba-Pfungwe would have voted not only for their patch of land but for the improvement of their economic circumstances.
It is possible to suggest that for the first time since 1980, Zimbabweans were driven by the politics of the stomach; voting on issues of their sustenance rather than on sentiment. Politicians are often in the suicidal habit of grossly underestimating the awareness of ordinary voters, especially those in the rural areas and their ability to pierce the veil between rhetoric and substance.
When the basic choice is between food on the table and intangible ideals, that debate appears to have been settled by Maslow’s theory of psychology and the hierarchy of needs.
There is no doubt that this watershed election was about the state of Zimbabwe’s economy.
The Zanu PF government has often argued that the source of the economic crisis is the failure of neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes and later declared and undeclared sanctions by Western governments as retribution for land retribution.
The Zimbabwean crisis is therefore argued as a bilateral dispute between Britain and Zimbabwe. The government’s approach suggests that the Zimbabwean crisis is more about defending our sovereignty than it is economic.
The opposition and the international community have in turn blamed the government of gross economic mismanagement and ruinous policies such as an ill-planned land redistribution exercise, patronage spending in the war veterans pay-outs, involvement in an unbudgeted regional warfare in the DRC and the recent price control policy. “It’s the economy stupid” was a catchphrase popularised during Bill Clinton’s first campaign against President George W Bush, who was shackled with a recession in 1992, a year after his acclaimed stewardship of the US-led victory in the Persian Gulf. That victory had given Bush the highest presidential approval rating in US history.
However, given the choice between nationalistic pride and their wallets, the electorate voted with their wallets. Clinton emerged victorious and the markets responded positively to his appointment. From the stock market’s perspective he proved to be a strong president.
Politics has the uncanny habit of affecting your pocket, whether you vote or not. In the absence of strong institutional frameworks of law and independent regulatory bodies, the outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections is naturally the strongest determinant of the country’s policy direction.
Collated House of Assembly results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) indicated Zanu PF losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in 28 years. The MDC had a slight majority running almost neck and neck, evenly splitting the votes between them. Although the presidential election remains in the balance, it has become evident that Zimbabwe is at a defining moment. The underlying hopes of the millions who voted on March 29, regardless of political dispensation have been that this election will change the economic future of the country, with diverse views on which candidate is better placed to achieve that objective.
The official parliamentary results are pointing towards the possibility of a totally new phenomenon on the Zimbabwean political landscape, a “hung parliament”. In parliamentary terms, a hung parliament is defined as one in which no one political party has an outright majority. Although a hung parliament is often considered debilitating for a fledging democracy, it may be the best thing for a transitional one.
So would a hung parliament be good enough to resuscitate the Zimbabwean economy and is the current vote split between Zanu PF and the MDC good for the economy? There is every indication that it is.
Firstly, a hung parliament will provide the key that Zimbabwe need, to bring in reforms. It will add plurality of voices and diverse power centres to the House of Assembly and for the first time in 28 years may become the ignition for reasoned and contested economic policies since Independence.
Secondly and most significantly, the MDC is a relatively new but rapidly growing party. A hung parliament will give the MDC the cautioned experience of government without the irrationality of costly economic mistakes camouflaged by the euphoria for change, as was the case when Zanu came into power.
Left with an overwhelming majority, the danger could be that the MDC would have dug itself into monumental blunders without checks and balances from a strong opposition. Thirdly, the conversion of Zanu PF into an opposition party in parliament is an indictment on their economic policies which have, if not the causation, failed to address the current economic embarrassment.
Undoubtedly, Zanu PF, unused to being an opposition party will try to win back the mandate of the people, hopefully creating parliamentary competitiveness. 
The balance of power in the current outcome is important in trimming any political party’s authority, which in turn is good for economic recovery. The post-election period may present an important window for the incumbent politicians to address policy irrationality for the sake of the ordinary Zimbabweans they claim to represent.  With no definitive majority for all parties, economic policies as with any other legislation will be decided based on coalition building. Although this may prove a challenge to a new government, it may yet become the most important outcome of this election. Some policies, regulations or enactments such as the controversial price control regulations would not pass through parliament without the necessary scrutiny, as politicians would fear being voted out of office.
The dispensability of political cycles is a necessary building block for any progressive society and good for the economy. Choices made by public officials will depend not only on what would be optimal but also on the lobbying interest of their political bases.
As such, the allocation of corporate power and privileges will be determined not only by how governments favour their various constituencies but by the fear that a politician will be voted out of office and lose power if they don’t represent the will of the people.
However, since Zimbabwe is not a parliamentary democracy, the outcome of the presidential election will be important in addressing any economic resuscitation. In the event that the MDC wins the presidency, the party has a window of opportunity to formulate a broad consultative economic agenda and a definitive plan for economic recovery.
The MDC has the advantage of novelty and international support. A new government can tap into massive financial support from the international community which has imposed sanctions on the Zanu PF government. An emergency stabilisation fund can also be accessed from the IMF to address fiscal imbalances, restore credibility in the monetary system and balance of payments. Without a concise turn-around plan, public euphoria and unreasonable expectations can easily turn into disillusionment and a lightning quick political defeat.
If the incumbent president were to be re-elected, the shifting political base will demand a change in policy strategy to address the economic decline and a re-evaluation of people’s concerns. Failure to address policy weaknesses and other fundamental reasons for the economic disaster can only result in a hastened political demise.
Lance Mambondiani is an Investment Executive at Coronation Financial. These views are his own.

By Lance Mambondiani

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