The hype about elections in Zimbabwe seems to gather steam as all political parties try to situate themselves and identify with the electorate. But, the attendant question is at what cost and under what conditions will the elections be held under.Such a question is quite significant given the fact that the next elections, whether they are going to be held this year or next year, they are going to mark a watershed/turning point in the history of Zimbabwean politics. This is due to several reasons that I will explain and deal with at length and in breadth in the ensuing discussion. Another question that is also in the offing is whether the Zimbabwean populace do really need these elections. More to the above is Zimbabwe prepared for the polls both administratively, financially and emotionally. Are they really necessary one may rhetorically ask.
This is given the fact that Zimbabwe may regress and slide back into a state of anarchy, and terror characterized and punctuated by political intolerance and political violence across the political divide. With some emerging as victors and some as the vanquished (victims).Can Zimbabwe really afford to go back to a Hegelian state of nature, where life becomes ‘short, nasty and brutish’ all under the banner of elections? What are the election benefits either for the political actors or to the people of Zimbabwe in general? Let’s look collectively to every Zimbabwean, some who support ZANU PF, MDC-T, MDC-N, MDC-M, Mavambo, ZAPU, et al and for others who believe that they are neutral. For the ZANU PF the next elections will determine whether they will consolidate their grip on power or their exit from power after having been in power for 32 years. For the MDC-T this is a make or break election in the sense that the outcome will determine if whether the MDC-T will remain a perennial opposition political party, paradoxically with a huge following in the Zimbabwean political plateau.
As for the MDC-N, these elections will serve as a barometer to assess and measure their relevance and support base as a credible opposition political party that is a viable alternative from the mainstream MDC-T, to whom they accuse of lacking internal democracy. The elections will also be useful to evaluate if whether they do have a national appeal beyond Matabeleland. As for Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, the forthcoming elections will also be significant in terms of assessing their support base in light of the future. But, the Mavambo project may not be interested in assuming power, rather at this opportune moment they may be more interested in building a formidable opposition capitalizing on the weaknesses and failure of all the political players that are in the GNU. Thus, they will be more concerned with using these elections as a launch pad to re-strategise and re-group. They comfortably know that they will emerge as one of the opposition parties out of the GNU. For the people of Zimbabwe, these elections will provide a fertile ground to do away with the GNU (voting away GNU). More importantly, some will view these elections as the panacea to all the problems afflicting this country.
Such a view is widely shared by many, within and outside the country who really believes that ‘two cocks cannot stay in one fowl run’ or ‘two bulls cannot stay in one kraal”. It is the fragmentation of the opinions and views within the electorate that, both ZANU PF and MDC-T will garner almost equal votes. There are those who still believe that ZANU PF can still deliver, although some might say they are now a minority. These are the people who will vote for the party with their hearts and minds. Such a group of the electorate will vote for policies such as Indigenization and Empowerment, Removal of Sanctions, Sovereignty etc. Whilst on the other end,MDC-T will also lure a huge following using the discourse/narrative of restoration of the rule of law,constitutionalism,equality, (liberal democratic theory) job creation, resuscitation of the economy, peace and tranquility amongst a host other election promises both false and real.
As for the legislators, the next elections are a thorn in the flesh. With some being ensnared in the cobweb of corruption as evidenced in the CDF saga, if internal democracy through primary elections is going to prevail, the next elections will see some bidding farewell to the Parliament Building. The MPs in the MDC-T who were voted on the basis of being MDC-T (being the better candidate on the right time) rather than on craft competence, capacity and merit will surely not survive. As for the ZANU PF, MPs if ever the playing field is going to be leveled those who used violence to frog march voters, beat and intimidate fellow citizens to vote them into power might also see the exit door as they will move towards the days of their political sunset.
However, given the above context one can then argue that the next elections will be highly polarized similar to previous elections with a high likelihood for the recurrence of violence and the rendition of the June 2008 episodes. This will happen in full view of the SADC.However; to my surprise many Zimbabweans romanticize and over-generalise the relevance and input of SADC in the next elections. SADC Electoral Guidelines dovetailing with the roadmap will not change the political complexion without the political will and commitment to tackle pre-election violence from the political principles. Squarely so, not much should be expected, and nothing new will come out from SADC in terms of its strategy and action towards the political gladiators in the Zimbabwean political hotchpotch. To expect much will be just pinning Great Expectations were there is No Hope. Taking from the precedent of other post-conflict elections in some other countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Angola it is abundantly evident that post conflict elections are difficult by nature as much as the citizens vote with their feet by absconding from the polling stations as the only weapon of the weak. (see Terrence Lyons).
It is highly likely that the electorate will vote either for peace or for food. Voting with their stomachs and feelings and not minds. So will be the next elections in Zimbabwe. Using the Rational Choice Theory voters have the right to choose whom to vote into political office, how and when as posited by (Edlin, Gelman, &Kaplan 2007). It is against such a backdrop that the next elections will not provide much in terms of choice (voting preferences) as much as they will be restrictive in the sense that the media will not be open to other political players outside ZANU PF. Despite demands and rhetoric by the MDC formations to liberalize the media, common sense and reality show that ZANU PF will not give in. Rather, more propaganda in larger dosages might be the in-thing during the coming elections. To substantiate this claim, one needs not to look very far but just look at the new radio stations that have been licensed. Thus the electorate is going to suffer from a critical information deficiency so as to ultimately make well-reasoned and well informed electoral decisions on their preferred candidates. The diasporans who might also contribute in the voting process if they are allowed to do Out of Country Voting (OVC) as in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor in the post-conflict elections are unfortunately not able to do so due to administrative bottlenecks bolstered by the Zimbabwean electoral law.
However, the next elections in Zimbabwe are quite significant both as a process and as a yardstick to measure our democracy this far/(as a tool for democratic consolidation).But, ultimately the voting patterns will be determined by various deterministic variables chiefly among them being fear not choice an anti-thesis to the rational choice perspective. This then means that the voter turnout will be very low in the next elections as many people will experience what (Cerdas, 1993) terms democratic disenchantment which will result in high voter absenteeism. Using the Input-Output model it can also be persuasively argued that the level and quality of voter education provided both by political parties and civic groups will have a huge bearing in the voting patterns, both in terms of numbers and the informed choices of the electorate.However,the input-output model is inextricably linked to the conditions for free and fair elections owing but not limited to universal and equal access to the electoral process, equal access to the media, an independent and professional Electoral Commission which enjoys the trust of all parties involved, credible voters roll and an impartial police force and army.
As long as rules of the game are in favour of one dominant political party the complexion of the next elections will not be very different from the previous polls. Without holistically addressing issues that has to deal with voter education, electoral violence,demilitation of constituency, voting patterns, electioneering, campaigning ,actual voting, counting and announcement of the electoral outcome the forthcoming elections will remain more of a meaningless ritual. As for the MDC-T it is quite absurd and fictitious to preach the rhetoric of protecting the vote whilst there are clear signs that it is failing to protect the voter before any announcement for the date for elections. Trumped up charges for political activists is the order of the day as many activists are rotting in the cells. After having waited to get election results over a period surmounting to more than 5 weeks one wonders whether the next elections will be different. My final submission is that there are many challenges and fewer prospects in holding free and fair elections whenever they are due, that is if we are going to be economic with the truth.
Gift Mwonzora writes in his own capacity. The author is a holder of a Masters in Development Studies specializing in Human Rights& Social Justice.