The general elections are barely a month away and aspirants of all persuasions are out in full force hugging babies, giving to the needy, launching and opening of bins and promising everything to everyone as they desperately seek to sway public opinion and hopefully the popular vote in their way.
Dumisani O Nkomo,Political Analyst
It is becoming increasingly clear that the presidential race is becoming a two-way race in a strong field of presidential candidates. It would be most desirable if no party had a two-thirds majority in parliament and for the electorate to choose their preferred candidates on merit.
However, election fever characterised by a propensity for electoral infatuation by both the aspiring candidates and the perspiring electorate may see people throwing reason out the window and voting for parties which are most likely to win rather than candidates who can deliver. If this scenario obtains, the race will then become a two-man horse race between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa.
In this article I will explore the chances that these two candidates have and the external factors and other variables which will determine their chances in the presidential race. I will explore the chances of other aspirants such as Thokozani Khupe, Joice Mujuru, Nkosana Moyo and others in subsequent instalments.
Recent opinion polls have suggested that the incumbent is likely to win the elections. However, there have been contesting views by numerous political analysts who have highlighted that there is a large number of people who have not indicated their preferred choice ahead of the forthcoming July 30 elections.
I will briefly look into a few factors that will work in favour of and against both candidates.
Mnangagwa: Key strengths and advantages
Incumbency: The cardinal advantage which Mnangagwa has in this presidential race is the advantage of incumbency. As the current President of Zimbabwe, he has to his personal advantage access to information, resources and personnel which no other candidate has. The sitting president has a head start because he has control (albeit debatably) of the key organs of the state such as the army and the civil service and to an extent the electoral process which on paper is run by an independent commission, (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)). The incumbent’s control of the entire security apparatus is questionable, though, as the police and the intelligence apparatus are not fully under his control, but broadly and theoretically speaking they lie within the ambit of his influence or at least the purview of the ruling party which, of course, should not be the case but in reality has been the case under former president Robert Mugabe .
Resources: It can further be denoted that Mnangagwa has admittance to state machinery and financial support from countries such as China as well as funds from the political parties, just to name a few. The incumbent, in addition to the already existing resources, has also benefited from financial provisions that have been made under the auspices of the Finance Act, 2018 (No. 1 of 2018) under which they and the leading opposition parties in parliament received a budget vote to jump-start the two political parties’ campaigns ahead of the upcoming elections. In that connection, it can further be construed that Zanu PF and Mnangagwa will also benefit from over 210 vehicles allocated to each parliamentary candidate in addition to the hundreds of other vehicles they have secured, it is also likely that state resources will be used or abused to aid Mnangwagwa’s presidential bid.
Control of military: This, of course, is debatable, especially after the recent explosion at White City Stadium in Bulawayo as it is not abundantly clear whether the president has full control of the security apparatus of the country in the manner Mugabe did up to the 2013 elections. However, if we are to assume that he controls the military it then becomes very problematic and intuitively cumbersome for the opposition to dislodge him because of the militarisation of many civilian institutions including the civil service. In 2008, the military played a major role in Zanu PF retaining power by foul or fair means.
Control of state media: The public media, especially the ZBC, has continued to be an extension of the ruling party even with this being evinced by the constant coverage of the ruling party activities ahead of the general elections. However, in the last month or so efforts have been made to decoratively open space.
Opening of space: The opening of space for political parties and civil society in terms of freedom of association has been quite clear and some may feel that indeed this is a new era and not a “new error”.
Chamisa: Strengths and competitive advantages
Charisma: Unlike his opponent, Nelson Chamisa possesses natural charisma which is key for any election. This is an attribute which Mugabe had and which Mnangwagwa does not have. He is able to relate to various audiences and effectively articulate issues at rallies
Generational vote: Chamisa, as a young person, has the potential to appeal to the youth registrants as 64% of registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 49. On the other side of the coin, this gain is also debatable because people do not vote in straight lines and there is a likelihood that some professionals may buy into Mnangagwa’s business rhetoric. However, the majority of Zimbabweans who will be voting were born after independence and will be keen to see a new leader with a new mandate taking over, seeing that Mnangagwa has been in cabinet since 1980 and cannot absolve himself from failures of the Mugabe regime.
Protest vote: Chamisa will also benefit from the fact that there has not been any significant economic growth and improvement in service delivery. Besides the “Zimbabwe is open for business” rhetoric, there is no actual tangible change that can attest to a new era. Admittedly, space has opened up and extortionate roadblocks have disappeared but economically the cash crisis persists and long bank queues are the order of the day. Economic growth takes time, as we know, but the people will judge a leader by what he has promised and by the economic deliverables they see. To this extent, Chamisa may gain from the protest vote arising from economic conditions
Further enunciated below are the weaknesses and the possible threats that can work against the two prominent presidential candidates:
The incumbent, compared to his opponent, lacks charisma;
Failed attempts to curb corruption;
A botched first 100-day plan;
Internal threat of the former G40 elements, many of whom won Zanu PF primaries. This may result in the bhora musango phenomenon with Zanu PF elements voting for Zanu PF MPs and councillors while voting for an opposition candidate in the presidential elections;
Emergence of the National Patriotic Front which may split the Zanu PF vote, especially the Mashonaland provinces.
Fissures resulting from the conduct of primary elections may result in the increase of Zanu PF supporters and disgruntled candidates mobilising against official party candidates and the official party candidate;
Lack of control of entire security apparatus, especially the police and intelligence services; and
The past will continue to haunt Mnangwagwa as his role in the Matabeleland massacres will continue to haunt him and so will his alleged involvement in the 2008 election violence.
Chamisa weak points
Internal fissures as a result of weak internal democracy and results of disputed primary elections. This may result in some party supporters voting for MDC-T led by Khupe, Nkosana Moyo and Mujuru;
Perceptions of immaturity;
High-sounding promises which the electorate may feel are unattainable;
Lack of consistent messaging: while his arch opponent’s “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra is clear and consistent, Chamisa, on the other hand, has not been very consistent in articulating what he stands for and appears to change his messaging depending on where he is or who he is addressing. This, as a result, can be a strength but can also be construed as a weakness;
Lack of resources: unlike in previous elections, there are little resources for opposition parties and his party in particular.
A clear threat to Chamisa’s chances will be the military’s willingness to roll over and allow an opposition candidate to win after last November’s coup. The establishment is unlikely to let this happen; and
Confusion arising from the party name as many, especially in rural areas, may not know the difference between the MDC Alliance and the MDC–T.
In the final analysis, it will be a very closely-contested battle and the above factors will play a key role in determining who wins the elections. As to who will win, I leave it to the reader based on the above factors and other variables.
Nkomo is the chief executive of Habakkuk Trust. He is also the vice-chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. He writes here in his personal capacity and views shared here are not a reflection of the views of any of the above organisations. — firstname.lastname@example.org