Washington, DC — Almost overlooked, amid the deafening exchange of charge and counter-charge in Zimbabwe's election campaign, are the policy and program plans that distinguish Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF from Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition MDC.
As might be expected, land is a key issue. "Only Zanu-PF understands that Land is the Economy and that the Economy is Land; and only Zanu-PF can translate this understanding into policy," reads a party position paper written for the parliamentary elections two years ago. "The root cause of the challenges facing our economy today is simple and clear: Unequal land distribution in our country," the Zanu-PF document continues.
Two years ago, the Zanu-PF government passed new laws allowing expropriation of land without compensation, and began encouraging landless peasants to occupy commercial farmland. Zanu-PF then said that over the following five years it planned to take - "compulsorily" - five million of the 14m hectares of land - "our country's most fertile" - held by white commercial farmers.
Much of this land, the government says, is under-utilised and once put into production by Africans, will contribute more than 10 billion additional Zimbabwe dollars to the country's Gross Domestic Product.
The government's aggressive land acquisition plans include urban areas as well. About 50,000 hectares will be taken to develop affordable housing in urban centers - a human right, in the view of the Zanu-PF government. And all of this would have been done sooner, says the government, were its hands not tied by the Lancaster House Agreement and constitution that led to Zimbabwean independence.
"It remains the intention of our Party to do away with the Lancaster House Constitution and replace it with a democratic, homegrown constitution," says Zanu-PF in a position paper.
At a rally late last month, Mr. Mugabe called this weekend's presidential election, "the last battle for freedom and sovereign right to self-determination where Zimbabwe will be the land for Zimbabweans and no-one else."
For its part, the MDC does not deny the need to return land to a population made landless by colonialism, but calls government claims of having resettled hundreds of thousands of families under a "Fast Track" program, an exaggeration. "We have only found evidence of 30,000 families having been resettled under the Fast Track in conditions of heightened poverty," the program says. Land reform initiated by the government has "failed", says the MDC, "because the exercise has been poorly planned and inadequately funded."
The MDC proposes to set up an independent land commission, carry out reforms - such as giving land title to resettled farmers, develop infrastructure to support African farmers and initiate training and financial support that it says "will go beyond" the government's Fast Track program. The whole process, says the MDC will be conducted "in a peaceful, orderly and open manner."
Despite an almost completely shattered economy - even the government acknowledges an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, while inflation is more than 100 percent - neither candidate has spelled out what a comprehensive recovery plan might look like. Elements of proposals can be found in documents however.
An MDC manifesto that attacks corruption, high unemployment, mismanagement and debt, promises a job-creation program. It says one million new jobs can be created in two years. "To kick-start the process of employment growth, short-term employment programmes will be introduced in mass housing schemes and rural infrastructure projects." Job creation and price reduction are at the heart of the MDC's economic agenda," says MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
An MDC government will privatise public enterprises, institute a "progressive" tax structure, and combat inflation through stabilization of the exchange rate. Tsvangirai expects to win back the international assistance that has almost completely stopped coming to Zimbabwe for the past two years.
"Something quite revolutionary needs to be done, and done urgently, by our Party and Government," Zanu-PF says, for its part. They acknowledge a problem of corruption, but point the finger at private businesses and NGOs. "Increasing cases of corruption are the result of organized criminal conduct in the private sector and NGO community."
Specifics are scarce, but much of the party's economic vision is linked to the question of land reform. In discussing the need for a program for developing rural infrastructure (such as roads and electricity), marketing facilities and other projects to ensure the "optimal" usage of land, a Zanu-PF paper calls for the removal of any IMF or World Bank role in managing fiscal policy. "Zanu-PF believes in fiscal discipline. But there cannot be any fiscal discipline without fiscal control. Indeed, fiscal control is the essence of sovereignty."
Other issues set the two candidates apart, such as transparency of government, constitutional design and regional involvement. But like the issues of the economy, they aren't being raised on the campaign trail.
The real test, say many observers and analysts, will be the election, no matter who is the winner. The scale of Zimbabwe's desperation may push Tsvangirai in more radical directions, out of political necessity. The need to repair Zimbabwe's international links, may soften Mugabe's increasingly hard line stance on key issues.