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Elections critical to recovery

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has been pulling out all the stops to put Zimbabwe back in the international fold and on track for recovery after almost two decades of regression under ousted president Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

In the process, Mnangagwa has pressed all the right buttons and made the right noises. He has been positive and energetic in his drive to ensure national recovery and headway.

As a result, despite lack of popular legitimacy and credibility due to the circumstances of how he seized power — that is through a military coup — Mnangagwa has gained traction. He has also won endorsement from a huge section of Zimbabweans and outsiders tired of Mugabe. Local, regional and international constituencies have given him some approval to varying degrees. Of course, there are nuances to his endorsement.

At home, Mnangagwa has been well-received largely because people were weary of Mugabe, but now popular resistance is gradually building up from the opposition and other circles not convinced by his legitimacy and capacity to govern. This will peak during election campaigns and he might well be given a good run for his money by his arch-rival, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.

Regionally, Mnangagwa has been around to seek support and legitimacy. South Africa, the region’s superpower, has been supportive but cautious. So have been the United States, European Union States and China. Only Britain, among the big powers, has been over-enthusiastic. Even then, London has also demanded free and fair elections as a condition for future engagement and cooperation.

That is where the convergence is. The common denominator among various constituencies from whom he needs support has been one: free and fair elections.

This means Zimbabwe will not be up and running before elections. After the political maelstrom and strum und drang, it will plateau out until after the polls. While some investors are moving in, the majority are just taking positions waiting for the elections.

The conventional wisdom, premised on the politics of incumbency and the support of the military — a key player in Zimbabwe’s electoral affairs — is that Mnangagwa will win. Yet there is a growing body of opinion that he might not; the elections could produce a hung parliament and a run-off for the presidency. This could eventually lead to a coalition government.

The first proposition is strong, given the state machinery, military and resources at Mnangagwa’s disposal.

However, he is hamstrung by internal Zanu PF politics. He inherited a deeply-divided party at war with itself and engulfed in self-immolation due to a brutal succession battle only ultimately settled by the army. So his party lacks internal cohesion. It remains fractured and weak; still facing fragmentation along regional and ethnic fault-lines.

The MDC-T and thus MDC Alliance also has serious internal problems. It is busy committing political hara-kiri. Due to the political fratricide, the opposition is also divided and crumbly.

Joice Mujuru, who could end up working with Ambrose Mutinhiri and Thokozani Khupe, is likely to eventually lead another opposition coalition to elections, meaning there could be three major players; Zanu PF, MDC Alliance and the People’s Rainbow Coalition. Nkosana Moyo and his party remains an unknown factor.

The implication and impact of this could be far-reaching. These blocs could divide the electoral map significantly, forcing a coalition government. Zimbabwe could well be entering a new era of coalition politics.

Given this, the next elections are critical to investors and the country’s trajectory. While estimating the equilibrium effect of elections on economic policy and direction is always a challenge in countries like Zimbabwe where voting behaviour is mainly influenced by positions and not issues and competence, there is no doubt investors and other key stakeholders are waiting for free, fair and credible elections to make important decisions.

If elections are disputed again, Zimbabwe could be headed for renewed political instability and economic volatility.

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