Zimbabwe: the stakes are high and it’s a close race


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Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF hope a credible victory in the 30 July election will legitimise the power (both party and state) they gained from the “soft coup” that toppled his predecessor Robert Mugabe last November.

With victory, they say, the donors and dollars will flood in to the country they have resurrected from nearly two moribund decades. Zimbabwe is now “open for business” and will thrive. ZANU-PF’s resurrection will thus be complete.

But a new survey suggests ZANU-PF should stall any premature celebration plans. The latest one showed that, in the space of one month, Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance has closed the gap with ZANU-PF.

The surveys are conducted by Afrobarometer, an independent research network that conducts public attitude surveys across Africa and its Zimbabwean partner, Mass Public Opinion Institute, a non-profit, non-governmental research organisation.

If the respondents were to cast their ballot now Mnangagwa would take 40% of the votes and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa would take 37%. The still undecided or not-saying potential voters are at 20%. Split that and you get a 50/47 race.

The numbers are very close indeed. If not a victory for the MDC-Alliance, this looks like a presidential runoff. The MDC-Alliance has a 49% to 26% lead in the cities and towns and in the countryside the figures are 30% for the opposition to ZANU-PF’s 48%. In parliament ZANU-PF would get 41% to the MDC-Alliance’s 36. This is a big change from May’s survey.

Given the MDC-Alliance momentum, the post-Mugabe ZANU-PF’s hopes of a resurrection may be dashed. A great deal hangs on both parties’ ability to manage this interregnum.

Big trade-offs will be negotiated, ranging from coalition governments, which the poll shows has the backing from 60% of respondents, to amnesties for the chief crooks and killers.

Striking deals might indeed lie at the centre of whether or not the election is a success. That’s because this election is about grabbing back the core of hardwon democracy from a military dominated regime. It’s about cleansing out generations of fear.

That is a hard task at any time. It’s harder still when it took a coup to retire its prime source.

Mnangagwa has been spectacularly unsuccessful at winning past elections in his own constituencies, standing for parliament three times and losing twice.

The factions in ZANU-PF that squared up against one another prior to the coup – the Generation-40 group that supported Grace Mugabe for the party and state president and Lacoste, which supported Mnangagwa – are still battling along lines more ethnically drawn than ever. Some of the losers in the Generation-40 group have left the party to form the National Patriotic Front.

Although the perpetrators have not been found, the blast at ZANU-PF’s Bulawayo rally in late June that killed two people and only narrowly missed a whole stage of luminaries, could suggest that the party’s wounds have yet to heal.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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