HomeAnalysisStrong coalition must combine democratic, liberation figures

Strong coalition must combine democratic, liberation figures

This is a continuation from last week:

On the surface, a coalition that combines groupings from the democratic contingent and the National People’s Party (NPP) leader Joice Mujuru grouping may provide the much-needed gravitas to deliver victory given the combined elements of democratic values and liberation credentials by the opposition. The liberation parties are most likely to have created a solid network within the region where solidarity and electoral support is provided on the basis of a shared history of anti-colonial struggles in Southern Africa.

To unravel this setting, liberation icons such as those in the Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) and NPP are a crucial component. However, the challenge remains in unsettled historical questions, where their past atrocities continue to be a burden which dissuade ordinary citizens from supporting these formations and may work against the interests of the coalition.

It is also crucial to note that the total support for the coalition remains below that of Zanu PF, at 32% and 38% respectively. In addition, support for Zanu PF is way above the combined individual party support of 22%; being 16% for the MDC-T, 4% for NPP and 2% for the rest of the parties. How these parties in their individual and collective settings will reconfigure their fortunes is entirely the big question as we progress into the 2018 elections.
Electoral reforms

The electoral reform agenda predates the 2013 elections. Whereas the new constitution provides for electoral reforms, media reforms and many other freedoms, its implementation remains a key concern, as citizens are yet to enjoy these freedoms. Again, whereas the opposition movement has mounted various campaigns to push for electoral reforms, such efforts are yet to achieve any meaningful progress.

For instance, the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) platform started with zest and gusto, but this has since fizzled out. Current coalition discussions have not been specific in terms of how the issue of reforms will be treated or prioritised, as current efforts seem to be centred on establishing a workable framework rather than developing the agenda for the envisaged government.

On its part, the Zanu PF government has never willingly entertained the constitution-making process. The ruling party resisted the constitution-making process since the early 1990s as part of its power retention agenda, but had to grudgingly accede to the demands of a highly-mobilised and powerful opposition and civil society. The Government of National Unity (GNU) and 2013 constitution became the climax of the opposition and civil society in Zimbabwe.

Despite its expansive consultation and public deliberation, the constitution-making process become elitist, non-deliberative and served more as a political settlement rather than fulfilling the interests of the citizens. In addition, the ruling party is unwilling to implement the new constitution as well as the attendant reforms, for fear of losing power. It is on this basis that, the prospects for reform seem unlikely. This may have a large bearing on the prospects of the opposition in 2018.

The introduction of the biometric voter registration (BVR), although advocated for by the opposition, has resulted in a murkier situation given the possible machinations that may disenfranchise the majority of the opposition supporters. Put together with the polling station-based voting, the opposition support will likely suffer from intensified fear and thus accelerate Zanu PF victory.

Countenancing the scenarios

Scenario I: Paradise: The paradise scenario will achieve full democratic reforms that will promote sustainable elections for Zimbabwe. It is most highly unlikely, but the best-case scenario for Zimbabwe. Within this scenario, all the outstanding reforms identified by Crisis Coalition as early as 2003 and recently restated by Dr Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler will be resolved before the next election. These are:

The judiciary has been politicised and subordinated to the executive;

The bi-partisan parliament still functions as a rubber-stamp of the executive’s whims and policies;

The army, police and intelligence are clearly partisan and have played a key role in serious human rights violations;
Traditional leaders have been co-opted into ruling party structures and psyche;

Senior civil servants have been manipulated to serve as handmaids of the system;

Religious leadership has identified itself with Zanu PF policies and positions and has failed to exercise its prophetic and guardianship role in the nation. Where the leadership has dared to differ, it has been met with scorn from the highest office in the land;

Black business is largely an extension of Zanu PF’s primitive accumulation tendencies in as much as white business was the sanitised face of Rhodesian fascism;

Militarisation of sections of unemployed youths under the guise of the National Youth Service programme; and
The public electronic and print media is used as propaganda machinery for the ruling party.

Mandaza and Reeler (2016) observe that to level the electoral playing field, the opposition movement must demand the following as minimum conditions for the next elections:

Demand that all service chiefs make a public statement to the effect that they will obey the constitution and their enabling legislation, and will not support any individual political party (as the constitution requires).
Furthermore, they will disband Joc (Joint Operations Command), and only engage the government through the channel of the National Security Council (NSC) (as the constitution requires). Additionally, the government will invite the leader of the opposition to sit on the NSC as a confidence-building measure, since Zimbabwe is not in a state of war;

Demand that the Council of Chiefs make a public statement that they too will obey the constitution and their enabling legislation, and will not support any individual political party;

Demand that the state radio and television are de-politicised through the institution of a new management board, and that this board is constituted of independent persons without political affiliation;

Demand that all the powers under the constitution are accorded to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), and no government minister can have any say over any aspect of elections; and

Demand that the Electoral Act is amended in order to allow proportional representation and hence the diaspora vote.

In addition, in this scenario, all opposition political parties will be included in a grand coalition and respectful relationships will be developed. Issues of leadership, funding, messaging will be dealt with to ignite new energy in the opposition movement. A strong and attractive alternative policy framework will be developed to reverse the negative effects of the current mis-governance. Prudent leadership in economic affairs will require taking tough decisions on the economy.

In this scenario, the opposition has the brightest chances of performing well. However, voters seem to be struggling with unanswered questions around the leadership structure and the shared agenda of the coalition. Addressing these and creating the necessary cohesion among the leadership may result in increased combined support from the 32% observed by the Afrobarometer/MPOI survey to some higher figure given that at least 24% of the population did not say they sympathise with the ruling party in categorical terms. Citizens are likely to have a new impetus to vote if they are assured of a reformed electoral environment and a solid coalition.

Scenario II: Paradox: This is a paradox scenario in that it presupposes the attainment of reforms in the absence of a coalition. This is difficult to conceive because the reforms can more surely be achieved by a coalition of the opposition than it is by a fragmented opposition. This may be achieved if one of the political parties or all the political parties are successful in working on an electoral reform agenda but fail to agree on an electoral coalition arrangement.

However, is inconceivable that parties agreeing on an electoral reform agenda working arrangement, will fail to agree on a coalition pact on the same breath. As such, this scenario is unlikely but it is also a good scenario with prospects for the deepening of democracy in Zimbabwe.

If this scenario were to prevail, it will create the most ideal environment for democracy to flourish, because the situation will allow for multiparty democracy where various parties participate and compete on the basis of their policies and leadership qualities. This is a far superior proposal in that the agenda is not confined to the removal of a leader or a political party, instead; the proposal becomes one that is centred on delivering good governance and ensuring that citizens can pursue happiness.

However, such a scenario may not deliver regime change, as the ruling party may remain in power. If there is no drastic change in policy by the ruling party, this may mean a sustained economic collapse for the foreseeable future.
Scenario III: The dead-end: In the likely situation where electoral reforms are not in place and a coalition fails to materialise, the 2018 elections provide a clear platform for a dead-end.

Zanu PF will achieve a landslide victory over the fragmented opposition; however, each party will secure a chance to fight on another day. Those parties that will manage to win some seats will be able to secure state funding and live to fight from a point of strength in future elections. The prospects for economic revival under this scenario are very dim. The question of legitimacy may be the only strategic fallback for the opposition after the defeat; however, this depends on how regional and international support will be mobilised and how Zanu PF will respond to the opposition advocacy programmes. This scenario will be made worse by failure to effectively fundraise for the election by the fragmented opposition and sustained donor fatigue.

Moreover, going into the election as a fragmented opposition diminishes the chances to a level where a resounding Zanu PF victory will impact on prospects for opposition revamp in immediate future elections. This is likely, but is also the worst-case scenario for the opposition movement in Zimbabwe.

Scenario IV: Collective calamity: A Coalition secured in the absence of reforms is most likely to deliver a fatal blow to democratic transition in Zimbabwe. The level of electoral faults is so high that if a coalition was to be achieved and used to contest under the existing skewed electoral environment, a collective defeat attained will take decades to reverse.

While the current efforts by the opposition is on trying to secure a workable coalition, its possible failure to secure reforms may pose the biggest danger to democracy for years to come. This scenario is somewhat likely but is similarly bad for the opposition movement in Zimbabwe. A coalition that fails to secure electoral reforms is weak by definition and intent; it will have weak leadership, poor funding, poor mobilization and messaging.


Avoiding the worst-case scenario of the dead-end and achieving the best-case scenario of paradise calls for solid leadership within the coalition partners. It also calls for strategic thinking and planning to avoid identified pitfalls.

It is clear that the skewed playing field has caused fatigue within the opposition support and may attract voter apathy amongst an increasing number of voters in both rural and urban areas. It is therefore worthy noticing that in all the scenarios other than the paradise, Zanu PF is set to win the election, while a fighting chance requires electoral reform and the formation of an all-inclusive grand coalition.

This is likely to deliver a landslide Zanu PF victory for 2018, in spite of President Robert Mugabe’s old age and what many voters observe to be bad economic management. Going forward, an inclusive and deliberative approach to the coalition formation may mean a bottom up approach where civil society and political parties mobilise from below in order to re-energize the base.

The current situation indicates an elite coalition and reform agenda where the masses are completely left out. I propose a coalition for an electoral boycott as the only situation given the slow movement in the reform agenda. At the centre of the reform agenda should be the untangling of the hold exercised by traditional leaders on the voters across the countryside.

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. This article first appeared in Gravitas.

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