2018: Scenarios, questions for Zim opposition parties

Given the history of a parked transition since 1980, Zimbabweans are worried that the country remains arrested by retrogression. Zimbabwe has been stagnant without tangible development and the future of the country is threatened by misgovernance, corruption, lack of leadership and a complete absence of a shared vision. The country’s prospects are dim.

Toendepi Shonhe,Academic

Indeed, the country is in deep crises that require Zimbabweans to reflect deeply as a collective. The important questions to be asked are: why must we be worried; what is at stake and what are the prospects for Zimbabwe?

Contemporary public discourse presupposes that there are two variables that are important in determining what direction the country may take towards 2018 and beyond; namely, the prospects of a strong coalition and electoral reforms and that the two are mutually exclusive.

The truth of the matter is that while these two factors are critical, there are other equally important factors to consider when trying to imagine what sort of strategies the opposition in Zimbabwe may assume going into 2018. This article provides an opportunity to technically appraise these complex electoral questions and the prospects for the opposition.

Key factors for scenario mapping

As already indicated, beyond coalitions and electoral reforms, the other factors to be considered are; the economy, regional and international support, legitimacy, leadership, funding, trust and confidence.

The economy

A further deterioration of the economy will result in increased dissatisfaction by the citizens. In any case, unemployment and the economic crises remain the major concern by citizens across the length and breadth of the country, as the May 2017 Afrobarometer survey results have shown.

The high prevalence of poverty in both urban and rural areas, among the young and women is a key factor for the citizens. Against limited scope for reversal of the downward trend in the economy, given the unlikelihood of increasing foreign direct investment (FDI), slowed down impact of the import substitution policy implemented through Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 and limited value-addition on minerals and agricultural commodities, the chances of stabilising the currency remains sketchy.

However, cognisance must be taken of possibilities of food security gained in the 2016/17 farming season and its potential to minimise the levels of disenchantment. Food sovereignty will have the effect of reducing the demand for foreign currency and as such may help stabilise the currency. If this was to trigger production in the industry, this may begin to reverse de-industrialisation; however, this looks most unlikely as most products are exported in raw form due to the disarticulated nature of the economy. In the absence of fundamental changes in industrial production, little must be expected to revamp the economy .

Interestingly, apportioning blame and giving accolades by citizens has not matched conventional knowledge, as Afrobarometer revealed.

On the other hand, Zanu PF has sought to proffer a new narrative based on an emerging new economy where the informality of the economy is normalised. This has been aided by a highly reconfigured political economy where the social base has undergone comprehensive changes. How the ruling party will consolidate its narrative and/or how the opposition will develop and indulge with a counter-narrative matters in terms of how citizens will weigh the impact of the economy going forward.
Regional and international support

To achieve the desired electoral and democratic reforms, Zimbabwe needs regional and international support.
In 2013, an opportunity was lost where Sadc and the African Union (AU) had sided with the citizens’ quest for democratic elections, yet the opposition disregarded the advice, thereby squandering a grand opportunity for reforms. This resulted in Zimbabwe regressing in a very significant way.

Restarting the formula will require a new impetus, which is currently non-existent among the key players in the polity. This is made worse by the fact that the major international centres of power, including the country’s former colonial masters (Britain), the United States and European Union have begun to thaw relations with some elements within Zanu PF, never mind its effect on democracy in the country.

The overall impact is that regional and international support for reforms will be more difficult to mount given that these players are now more focussed on advancing their economic interests more settling the long-standing democratic deficiency, for which the opposition movement has long cherished.

On its part, the ruling party has relied on the former liberation movements’ platform for collaboration and solidarity. This is likely to increase given the threat being posed to the African National Congress (ANC) by its own opposition, now including the core-alliance partners, Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Party.

However, President Robert Mugabe’s age may begin to cause an overall decline in regional support for the ruling party. In the event of Mugabe’s untimely departure, any successor will struggle to amass the same level of support in Africa, diminishing the country’s role in shaping the agenda in Sadc and AU. How these possible futures may shape scenarios for 2018 and beyond depends much more on how either side will shape regional and international advocacy.

Legitimacy

The post-2008 elections negotiations that led to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) revealed that Zanu PF has a strong affinity for some form of electoral legitimacy despite its authoritarian tactics. This may be the only leverage that the opposition may have to rely on to push for reforms and the holding of free and fair elections. How the opposition movement will explore and use this important factor and how Zanu PF will respond may have material impact on the quality of the election to be held in 2018?

Alternatively, it will be a question of how Zanu PF ensures that it secures legitimacy in spite of the party’s refusal to implement electoral reforms. These questions will determine how Zimbabwe’s future may be shaped going into 2018 and beyond.

Leadership

A key factor that will influence likely scenarios for 2018 is leadership. With regards to Zanu PF, providing leadership in the various aspects of the governance sphere has been problematic and questionable.

In the end, the ruling party has had to rely on strong-hand tactics to maintain its grip on power. The party has had to resort to both coercion and consent to secure power retention. However, Mugabe’s advanced age, at 94 when the next election will be held, has intensified the succession battle within the ruling party.

Two main factions (Lacoste and G40) have recently emerged. There has been intensive infighting that initially resulted in the expulsion of former vice-president Joice Mujuru and her sympathisers and, more recently, the expulsion of some members of both Lacoste and G40 factions.

What may save the ruling party is its strong reliance on the security apparatus for electoral campaigns. For instance, its continued presence in the villages under Maguta, the securitisation of unemployed youth residing in the villages, the politicisation of food distribution, the politicisation of artisanal mining and vending spaces, all work in its favour.

As such, in spite of the weaknesses associated with its aged leadership and the attendant intensification of succession fights, Zanu PF’s octopus nature and its convoluted party-state configuration may propel its fighting chances come 2018.

The opposition is currently fragmented. There are more than 40 political parties, even though some of them have been described as briefcase parties. Currently, there are various initiatives aimed at building a coalition to increase the potency of the opposition movement in the 2018 elections.

However, the issue of leadership structure remains unclear. As a result, Zimbabweans continue to doubt the effectiveness of the proposed coalition. In part, the problems hover around the ability of the leadership to set aside personal interests, egos and parochial party agendas, and push for a common people’s agenda.

In addition, Zimbabweans worry about the ability of the collective leadership to build trust and confidence among the voters, given incessant fights over control, policy, strategies and leadership credentials. How these and other issues will be resolved is of material importance as 2018 beckons. In any event, past inadequacies associated with failure to assume state power after electoral victories will require additional effort by opposition leaders if the dormant vote is to be triggered into voting.

Funding

Funding is an important component for any election. On the part of Zanu PF, there has been a huge inflow of resources in the form of vehicles: buses, trucks and sedan cars as well as fuel and regalia. This funding is tied to some patronage setting where international capital has been given lucrative deals by the government in the mining and fuel industry in return for funding the power retention agenda.

Moreover, the party is relying on the printing of bonds and artificial money transfers for the purchase of hard currency that is, in turn, used to purchase electoral campaign arsenal.

The stage is set for a highly competitive race towards 2018. To the contrary, the opposition movement is underfunded and this is likely to negatively impact on its ability to mobilise and recruit new members. Similarly, the monitoring of the election will also be compromised.

Civil society is generally resource poor due to donor fatigue and change of policy, wherein the thawing of relations with the ruling party has created the need for either genuine neutrality or outright support for some preferred successor. In some cases, specific funds have been set aside by some donors to propel some candidates in Zanu PF. How this will be sustained or curtailed will define the trajectory for 2018 and beyond.

The narrative

An authotarian regime relies on ideological positioning around a revolutionary project or some historical legacy to awaken emotions among the voting citizens. As a result, a highly contested area has been around party ideology, policy and strategies.

Some analysts have argued that Zanu PF has no clearly defined ideology and therefore it is not easy to place its orientation. Yet, despite its capitalist tendencies, policy pronouncements have almost always been populist, redistributive and left-leaning in nature. The land reform and indigenisation and empowerment programmes are cases in point.

Meanwhile, the opposition has shown no clear ideology that speaks to the improvement of livelihood questions of citizens in general. If this is to change, clear policy formulation processes must be implemented and this must be supported by messages to counter the dominant messages by the ruling Zanu PF.
The two driving forces

In identifying the coalition and electoral reforms as key variables for 2018 among the other factors articulated in this piece, the opposition correctly captures the key driving forces for the next election. However, it is the nature of the coalition and the extent of the electoral reforms which may be central to the likely outcome for 2018.

Coalition

The issue is not about coming up with one coalition for the opposition movement, but it is about the nature, structure, strength and potential to deliver a victory in 2018. To achieve this, the coalition must have a people’s agenda, reconcile ideological differences, establish a winning team, ensure leadership cohesion, develop a superior message and secure adequate funding. Its post-election agenda and structure must be clearly defined, taking into account a possible win or lose in 2018.

The coalition must gain the trust and confidence of the people and must eliminate individual weaknesses of the team members by assembling a team with differentiated capacities. Overtime, the possibility to achieve these goals is high. However, it will require sacrifices on the part of the variegated leaders from the parties involved, a feat that may prove insurmountable. Moreover, intra-party friction may likely balloon as power dynamics shift in response to coalition reconfigurations.

To be continued next week.

Dr Shonhe has a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is interested in the political economy of development, especially Zimbabwe and Africa’s complex agrarian relations.

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