WITH the clock fast-ticking towards make-or-break elections expected later this year, the main political parties in Zimbabwe are now finalising their manifestos set to be launched ahead of polls.
In many Western countries like the United States and Britain, well-articulated economic, foreign and social policies often win elections, but in Zimbabwe, this does not appear to be the case.
There is general consensus that Zimbabweans, most of whom are struggling to eke out a living in a harsh economic environment, do not take the time to read the parties’ voluminous documents or listen to policy debates, hence their vote is based more on the history of parties and charisma of their leaders, besides what the parties and their leaders generally stand for.
A common political culture by no means suggests that all Zimbabweans think alike. Some are influenced by history and tend to vote Zanu PF. Others are worried about the present and future, and tend to vote MDC parties. Some voters have more negative attitudes toward public officials than others do, and these largely vote MDC parties as well since they think Zanu PF leaders destroyed the country.
Analysts say people’s political and social backgrounds and attitudes determine how they participate, whom they vote for and what political parties they support. Many factors — including family, gender, religion, race and ethnicity and region — all contribute to Zimbabwean voters’ political attitudes and behaviour.
Some political observers say the country’s electorate is divided into two segments, most of whom have a strong loyalty to the party of their choice regardless of what manifestos they have or their governance record, while the other group can be referred to as sway voters whose decision is based on what policies the parties are offering.
While there is general consensus manifestos do little to attract voters, analysts say Zanu PF’s chaotic land reform programme and indigenisation have helped the party to survive this far.
After Zimbabweans rejected the 2000 draft constitution backed by the ruling Zanu PF government, the party embarked on a violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms and used the land reform programme as its election mantra.
Exploiting a legitimate historical grievance, the party used the land reform issue and now indigenisation as an instrument to mobilise votes, while unleashing terror across the country.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer Eldred Masunungure said the land reform programme helped Zanu PF to galvanise its support base because the policy resonated with the poor majority peasants.
“Land reform managed to help Zanu PF to keep on winning those controversial elections. Although the programme was violent, it resonated with the poor peasants and President Robert Mugabe won the admiration of the rural folk because he sought to address issues that affected them,” Masunungure said.
The land reform exercise became Zanu PF’s trump card for the 2000 parliamentary, 2002 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections and a combination of the land reform programme and brutality worked for the party.
While Zanu PF used land reform as the centrepiece of its campaign, the MDC, which emerged in 1999 against a backdrop of growing demands by civil society and political activists for reform, campaigned on the basis of “change”, underpinned by the “Mugabe must go!” refrain.
The “change” wave took Zimbabwe by storm as the country reeled from a political and economic meltdown, particularly in 2008.
Analysts say Zimbabweans who voted for the MDC were not really bothered about the party’s policies, but were driven by a desire for a new political order. For the first time, Zanu PF’s hold on power became tenuous in the face of widespread social discontent and demands for change. It won narrowly in the 2000 general elections, with 62 parliamentary seats to the MDC’s 57.
As Zanu PF’s land reform campaign lost steam towards the 2008 elections, with the country experiencing an unprecedented socio-economic crisis, the party shifted its focus to the controversial indigenisation and empowerment programme, while the MDC-T promised the masses jobs, economic growth and resuscitation of social services like health and education.
The MDC-T is under pressure to respond to Zanu PF’s populist policies of land reform, indigenisation and company seizures which recent opinion surveys suggest are finding traction with voters, including the middle classes, largely the bedrock of MDC-T support.
MDC-T’s blueprints, including the initial Bridge, Restart and now Juice were designed to buttress the party’s ideological position, manifestos and electoral messages based on its change-rallying call.
The MDC led by Welshman Ncube has also launched its own policy blueprint, Actions.
Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, who is Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, said the current Zanu PF manifesto which is centred on indigenisation compares poorly to the MDC-T blueprint centred on jobs.
“Zanu PF’s indigenisation message is not as attractive as the land reform and cannot be compared to the jobs agenda which will drive the MDC-T,” Ruhanya said. “MDC-T is cruising on the jobs campaign and this has a bearing on the common people. The jobs agenda is appealing to the electorate because people want food on their tables and not promises of (company) shares that will never materialise.”
Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is estimated at over 80%.
However, as the country approaches elections, Zanu PF is basing its manifesto on indigenisation which analysts believe will not help much given its controversial, divisive and corrupt dimensions.
Professor Brian Raftopoulos, director of Research and Advocacy in the Solidarity Peace Trust, said although indigenisation is still bankable, complaints of corruption might taint Zanu PF’s manifesto.
“By implementing this controversial programme, Zanu PF has managed to claw back some space which it lost to the MDCs in the 2008 disputed elections and increase its support base, but allegations of corruption by a few individuals in the party has destroyed the manifesto,” Raftopoulos said.