ALEA iacta est – the die is cast – there is no turning back: Zimbabwe will hold critical general elections on July 30.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
This is going to be a momentous event. It has a huge bearing on the country’s future, not least because of the current political environment in which a new regime came in through a military coup last November.
The elections would also be as significant as the 1980 ones. Apart from occurring within a constitutional usurpation dispensation, which means a transition is underway, they would be the first polls since former president Robert Mugabe was toppled after almost four decades in power. Related to that, they would be the first after the founding liberation struggle generation — the Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe group — is no longer in the picture. Even the generation of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is fading away.
Overwhelming interest is on the presidential election. The main candidates are both running for the first time. There is also the demographic factor. At least 60% of registered voters are 40 years and below. This is something new.
Since the political environment has changed with the direct involvement of the military for the first in partisan and electoral politics, inevitably the big question is: Will the armed forces’ active role in politics limit popular sovereignty, the guiding principle of democracy, or not? In other words, who will win – the masses or the army? It is not the army versus the people per se, but the military’s current agenda to establish hegemony and control against popular sovereignty.
This will be the ultimate test during elections.
How the military conducts itself in the current period leading to elections will critically affect the electoral outcome and transition. So far the military has been restrained despite subverting the constitution. But the truth is the outcome of the elections and perhaps the transition — seen as a strategic choice between the incumbent regime and the opposition — itself lies in the strength of the military’s bargaining position vis-a-vis civilians in political parties and the public. That is the broader picture.
However, the trouble is that the playing field is grossly uneven rendering fair competition impossible. There are bureaucratic, administrative and fraud hurdles to overcome.
While elections are seen as critical in the democratisation process, there is the problem of the “fallacy of electoralism”; elections in authoritarian environments like Zimbabwe are often deprived of their democratic substance: they are seldom inclusive, meaningful, or minimally competitive. In this country, elections often help entrench electoral authoritarian rule, while theoretically they could also lead to democratisation.
On the presidential election, Mnangagwa will start as a favourite; he has the power of incumbency, experience, state machinery and resources, support of the military and some big powers behind him.
His weaknesses include lack of popular appeal. Mnangagwa is also struggling to fill Mugabe’s shoes. He inherited a deeply divided, fractured and weak party whose internal strife and chaos were exposed during the recent primaries — perhaps a poisoned chalice. Mnangagwa is also on a brinkmanship path with his deputy retired General Constantino Chiwenga. Currently, the military, which retains institutional control and prerogatives, holds the levers of power.
Mnangagwa’s main rival, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has his own balance sheet. He has huge popular appeal, he is young and may thus reap the youth demographic dividend, and is seasoned for his age. Chamisa also may benefit from the current convergence of main opposition forces to tackle Mnangagwa.
He has limitations, though, including lack of experience. There is no sound strategic thinking and solid plan around him. Chamisa also lacks resources. Besides, the MDC still has problems of 2013: lack of cohesion, indiscipline and chaos. It has also been ravaged by infighting like Zanu PF and splits. It is also too weak to resist and erode blatant military influence on politics and elections.
However, in a fluid environment like this, anything can happen.
May the best candidate and party win.