Zimbabwe Elections: Why Robert Mugabe may win

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 23rd, 2013
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Blessing-Miles Tendi Harare, guardian.co.uk

 

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP  Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe greets the crowd upon his arrival for the official opening of the Zanu PF Congress in Bulawayo, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. Loyalists of the Zimbabwe president's party are gathering for a party conference in preparation next year's election.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe greets the crowd upon his arrival for the official opening of the Zanu PF Congress in Bulawayo, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. Loyalists of the Zimbabwe president’s party are gathering for a party conference in preparation next year’s election.

Zimbabwe’s warring political leaders have finally agreed on a compromise constitution, starting a process that is expected to end in elections later this year.

A referendum on the new constitution has long been a key prerequisite for staging a vote, although full details of the compromise are yet to be made public. The referendum date is set to be announced soon and elections will follow thereafter.

But instead of a lively public interest in the winding up of the constitution making process and the prospect of elections, Harare is passive. The political bickering and power games that have characterised constitution-making since 2009 have engendered passivity towards national political processes.

Following the outcome of a similar situation in Kenya, some analysts are even skeptical that elections will take place this year. Kenyan political parties, like their Zimbabwean counterparts, entered a power-sharing government after a violent and disputed election in 2007. Just as in Zimbabwe, the completion of constitutional reform before fresh elections was seen as important. Kenya’s drafting of a new constitution proceeded rapidly and with some consensus – in sharp contrast to Zimbabwe. However the aligning of old laws with the new Kenyan constitution was hampered by bickering politicians, taking two years to complete and forcing delay of elections until March 2013.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza of Sapes Trust believes that enduring political differences between Zimbabwe’s major parties and the protracted practicalities of harmonising old laws with the new constitution will result in a repeat of the Kenyan scenario, thereby ruling out elections in 2013 in Zimbabwe – which will only intensify apathy.

There is also growing disaffection in urban areas towards Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai‘s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This will harm the MDC’s chances, particularly because urban constituencies are its traditional electoral stronghold. Tsvangirai, who rose to prominence in the 1990s as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, successfully challenged Robert Mugabe‘s Zanu-PF government on a range of social and economic policies that undermined urban labour. But since Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in a power-sharing government in 2009, his party’s relations with urban workers have slowly broken down.

A good example of this is civil servants’ long-running, futile negotiations with the public service ministry, which is controlled by the MDC, over wages and improved working conditions. While a 5% pay increase promised in 2012 has failed to materialise, MDC ministers have lobbied for a US$21,000 each housing allowance from the state treasury. One MDC cabinet member, who asked not to be named, said: “We have lost our virginity, our innocence, our high moral ground. At the last cabinet meeting of (18 December) 2012 MDC ministers put up a huge fight for an unwarranted US$21 000 housing allowance per cabinet member. Tendai Biti (the finance minister) was saying, how do we justify this given that we are not going to increase civil servants’ salaries? My colleagues in the MDC came up with clever ideas for hiding the housing allowance so the public will not know. What was shocking is that only one Zanu-PF minister spoke forcefully for the allowance. The real pressure came from my people. They were passionate. I sat there thinking if only the public out there knew this.”

A different MDC member, the constitutional affairs minister. Eric Matinenga, has not been afraid to voice his disaffection publicly. Last year Matinenga announced that he would not run for re-election in his Buhera West constituency after serving a single term. In the cool of his office in Harare’s Compensation House, Matinenga said: “When I made a decision to run for political office in 2008 I already had a plan for what I was going to do. I was going to serve only one term as MP and go back to being an advocate. The corruption and hunger for power I have seen on both sides of government (Zanu-PF and the MDC) has not made me want to go back on my original principle to serve one term. People go into politics to make money. It is not about public service. I was naive.”

Voter turnout in elections has declined steadily in the last decade. The current passivity and disaffection of urban voters points to continued decline in voter participation in forthcoming elections. Low urban voter turnout will undermine the MDC’s chances in elections, particularly in the presidential vote. Mugabe has secured the rural vote in the past because of co-opted traditional leaders who marshal their respective communities in support of his candidature, paramilitary control of the country side, violence and the party’s land redistribution programme in the countryside. These factors preclude apathy and are the preserve of Zanu-PF. The MDC’s increasing loss of touch with its urban support base, therefore, does not bode well for Tsvangirai ahead of elections.

Blessing-Miles Tendi is author of Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media and a politics lecturer at the Oxford University’s Department of International Development

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