opinionBy Elias Mambo
Although the run-up to Zimbabwe's general elections have always been characterised by violence and intimidation since 1980, the intensity scaled new levels in 2000 when the emerging MDC threatened Zanu PF's two-decade grip on power.
After losing the referendum on a government-backed Constitutional Commission draft constitution in 2000, Zanu PF embarked on a violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms as its main elections campaign drive.
Exploiting a legitimate historical grievance, the party used the land reform issue as an instrument to mobilise votes, while unleashing terror across the land.
This became Zanu PF's trump card for the 2000, 2002 presidential polls and 2005 general elections as it, underpinned by violence, somehow worked to the party's advantage.
Although the issue appealed to masses of dispossessed peasants, it also offered the party an opportunity to use its dependable weapons to win elections: brutality and fear.
The MDC was formed in 1999 against a backdrop of growing demands by civil society and political activists for political and economic reform as the country started deteriorating due to extended periods of misgovernment and maladministration.
While Zanu PF used the land issue as its campaign theme, the MDC campaigned on the platform of change.
But towards the 2008 elections, Zanu PF started changing its campaign theme, shifting focus from land reform and toning down on the attendant rhetoric to concentrate on its new strategy based on indigenisation.
The indigenisation campaign approach is now reinforced by Zimbabwe Broad-Based Economic Empowerment Policy (2013-42) developed by the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T party last week launched a new economic blueprint, Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and the Environment (Juice) to succeed the Reconstruction Stabilisation Recovery and Transformation (Restart): Our Path to Social Justice plan which was part of its last election's manifesto and campaign strategy.
The MDC-T blueprints, including the initial Bridge, Restart and Juice, were designed to buttress the party's manifestos and electoral messages based on its change rallying call.
With elections fast approaching, the two main political parties are once again crafting new manifestos and sharpening campaign strategies. Although the effectiveness of the land reform programme and indigenisation are questionable, a recent Freedom House survey claimed they have helped Zanu PF to recover lost ground.
The survey, which addressed political power, elections, fear and violence, the constitution, and socio-economic conditions, said the MDC-T's support is plunging, while Zanu PF has been recovering, although almost half of potential voters remained undecided, at by July.
"It is only a few of the most popular reasons for party choice in Zimbabwe that show up clear differences between the two pain parties' supporters. Land, indigenisation, foreign interference in Zimbabwe and especially liberation from colonialism do differentiate. The survey results clearly show that Zanu PF has crafted itself a number of effective election and party choice platforms," the survey says.
"The MDC-T largely relies on its emphasis on change, and to some extent on civil liberties, to achieve such platforms.
"The item on defending Zimbabwe against 'foreign interference' shows that this Zanu PF 'battle cry' finds resonance across the party and undeclared boundaries. The same applied to the themes of indigenisation and land reform. On the theme of 'liberation from the British' Zanu PF is more isolated, with the MDC-T and undeclareds not supporting this platform in great numbers," the survey said.
The survey also says there is a high level of consensus between the supporters of the two political parties that the way they govern is an important reason for them to be supported.
It follows both from the survey and from common logic that perspectives on the parties' respective performance in government - and in particular in inclusive government - would help shape voters' minds and voting trends.
Although violence has been simmering at a low level for the past couple of years, it is still there in sufficientmeasure to remind people that it can be stepped up in an instant.
The Zanu PF military-political complex has honed low intensity violence to a fine art: when announcements of pending elections are made, violence usually erupts.
So the biggest question now is: what will swing the next elections likely to be a close affair, Zanu PF's indigenisation policy or the MDC-T's change agenda? Or will the "margin of terror" make the real difference as it has done in the past?