However, in the past few months Zanu PF has shown that next year’s elections would be premised on a new strategy to coerce and persuade the voters. It has gone full throttle in targeting apostolic sects, taking over the airwaves, mobilising support from the traditional chiefs and using the controversial indigenisation policy to woo the electorate for Mugabe, who has been in power since Independence in 1980.
Zanu PF, which for a long time has been associated with violence, faces a daunting task as the country goes for another election mid-next year as suggested by Mugabe.
In a country where Internet penetration levels are below 10%, there are signs the next elections, unlike in developed countries, would be fought not in cyberspace, but on the airwaves. Zanu PF has already started playing unambiguously partisan songs as it readies for the elections.
A new wave of partisan songs, glorifying Mugabe, now enjoys generous and prime-time airplay. Youths appear to be the target of the songs as the theme, singers and dancing style appeal to the younger generation.
The setting of the songs, though cross-cutting the rural and urban divide, leans heavily to the latter, suggesting that the party which traditionally enjoys support from rural areas may be taking the war to the MDCs’ doorsteps in the suburbs. Urban areas have been the MDC’s epicentre from where its popularity has spread over the past decade.
Political analyst and academic Ibbo Mandaza said the playing of songs glorifying Mugabe and Zanu PF was mainly aimed at “eating away” MDC’s support.
“The problem is the messages are empty,” said Mandaza referring to the central theme in the songs. “This is a contest against the MDC. Most of the programmes and the philosophy in Zanu PF were meant to make sure that they stay in power forever while the MDC wanted to overthrow Zanu PF.”
Mandaza said it would be difficult to raise the interest of voters and the biggest problem Zimbabwe is likely to face is a very low voter turnout as most people are now tired of elections.
Another analyst, Takura Zhangazha, said while the recent move to play partisan songs could galvanise the youths, it would not mean that this was going to be successful. It was likely to be a case of spin doctors and propagandists missing what the voters were seeing.
“The youths have shown a lack of interest in direct politics,” said Zhangazha. “The recent move may be an attempt at bridging the gap (between the youths and the older generation) but for Zanu PF, the campaign mantra has been empowerment and indigenisation. While they may not be able to live up to their promises, they are building the campaign around this.”
In an attempt to woo the young voters in urban areas, Zanu PF’s electioneering took a new dimension with Mugabe giving Big Brother Africa first-runner up Munya Chidzonga $300 000.
Meanwhile, Mugabe has used every opportunity to “explain” what indigenisation meant saying it was supposed to benefit Zimbabweans. Just like at the turn of the century when Zanu PF’s election manifestos were rooted on the land, with the slogan “The land is the economy, the economy is the land”, the party now has set its eyes on indigenisation.
Many people remain sceptical though as they suspect that the indigenisation programme, as was the case with land reform, would benefit a few, especially where there is no clarity on how the ordinary person would get involved.
Zanu PF has also started using apostolic churches and traditional chiefs to garner support.
Last week, in clear violation of the Global Political Agreement, Mugabe turned a chiefs’ annual meeting into a Zanu PF party function. This was a conference which brought traditional chiefs from across the country and Zanu PF’s heavyweights to Kariba, venue of the meeting.
Presumably, the chiefs, at the end of the annual conference, resolved that Mugabe be life president and should be Zanu PF’s candidate in future elections.
This was in clear violation of the GPA where political parties committed themselves to ensuring political neutrality of traditional leaders as well as making sure that they did not engage in partisan political activities.
In what has become a trademark, Mugabe was clad in a garb that is worn by some of the traditional chiefs, reminiscent of what happened earlier in the year when he put on flowing Johanne Marange robes at the church’s passover ceremony in July.
Vice Presidents Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo have also addressed the church members, while Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has also been speaking at churches.
On both occasions, Mugabe painted a picture of being an ordinary person as he sought to endear himself with the potential voters.
Most apostolic churches have remained apolitical and the move to appear like one of them by the president could be aimed at netting from this group. The numbers game could also be attracting Mugabe as estimates put the total number of members of apostolic churches at close to four million. Their geographic spread would benefit a presidential candidate as they are not concentrated in a single constituency.
Analysts said while Zanu PF appeared to have adopted clean methods of winning support, the events of the 2008 presidential runoff continued to cast a shadow leaving many fearing a repeat of the violence.
Godfrey Museka, a Harare based analyst, said it would take a lot of effort to cleanse Zanu PF of its violent past.
“If you look at that party (Zanu PF), historically even during the liberation war, they have been using violence to coerce people and I do not see them surviving without the use of violence,” said Museka. “In most elections after 2000, physical confrontation has benefited them a lot.”
Mandaza said there was a threat of a low turnout if the elections were held and it would make sense if they were to take place in 2013 when they are due. This, Mandaza said, would give time for things to cool down. Holding elections, though making political sense as it may resolve the current political impasse, could erase the small economic gains realised since the institution of the government of national unity last year.
Observers also point out that the environment is yet ripe for free and fair elections while the administration of an election could be a headache as the voters’ roll is in a shambles. A national healing process appears to have petered out somewhere between departure and destination as the communities which were supposed to reconcile are literally at each other’s throats as was shown during the recent constitutional outreach programmes in Nyanga and Makoni.
In the June 2008 presidential run-off, 2 552 373 voters, representing 43,01% of those registered to participate in an election cast their ballots. This was a slight increase on the 42,73% turnout during the harmonised elections three months earlier.
Zanu PF has been accused of manipulating the system, especially voter registration where mobile units are deployed in the party’s traditional strongholds especially the rural areas.
Political parties, after the 2008 harmonised elections, bemoaned the state of the voters’ roll where names of dead people still appeared.