6 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Polls - Another Two-Horse Race

THE forthcoming elections are seen taking a familiar pattern.

According to analysts, the polls would be another two-horse race pitting traditional foes, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai.

President Mugabe, who leads ZANU-PF and the premier, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) have so far faced each other twice, first in 2002 and then in 2008 polls.

Both polls were disputed at home and abroad.

In the last election, the MDC-T leader came out top in the first round of voting but could not reach the threshold required to be declared the clear winner.

Consequently, a presidential election run-off became necessary to separate the top two candidates - PM Tsvangirai and President Mugabe, who had come second ahead of new kid on the block, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn president Simba Makoni.

It was at this point that all hell broke loose. The premier had to withdraw from the race citing gross human rights violations. But all the same President Mugabe was inaugurated for a sixth term, fuelling a crisis that forced the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to nudge the protagonists in the Zimbabwe crisis into forming an inclusive government in February 2009.

The rivalry between the two sworn enemies is seen continuing this year.

Both parties, ZANU-PF and the MDC-T have cleared their leaders to represent them again in the next elections.

Although President Mugabe is yet to proclaim the election dates, the impending conclusion of the stop-go constitution-making process indicates that elections are imminent.

The elections would be significant in that they would bring closure to the dysfunctional inclusive government prescribed by SADC along with the African Union (AU).

Another significant factor characterising the elections is that they are likely to be the first to be held under a new constitution drawn up by Zimbabweans themselves. The current charter was drawn up at Lancaster House.

The new draft charter is likely to go to a referendum next month and thereafter could become the supreme law of the land. The draft is expected to be tabled in Parliament this week after the principals in the inclusive government reached a deal over sticking points that were threatening the constitution-making exercise.

That aside, efforts are currently underway to lay down mechanisms that would usher in a legitimate government in Zimbabwe through the adoption of an election roadmap.

SADC and the AU's insistence on fair play before, during and after the polls has attracted interest in the country's electoral processes never seen before. A number of political parties are already readying themselves for this year's make-or-break national elections.

Apart from President Mugabe, the premier and Makoni, this year's elections would have a number of new entrants in the form of Welshman Ncube, the leader of another MDC formation and ZAPU president, Dumiso Dabengwa.

ZAPU would however, need to sort out its funding problems which might impede Dabengwa from throwing his hat into the ring.

MDC99 leader, Job Sikhala, appears not to be decided on whether he will contest the next elections.

Analysts canvassed by The Financial Gazette this week were unanimous that the looming plebiscite would once again be a two-horse race between ZANU-PF and the MDC-T.

Ncube, though not a serious challenger, is seen consolidating his hold in Matabeleland hoping that a closely fought election between the main parties would make him the kingmaker.

Political commentator, Gideon Chitanga, postulated that any other party that fields candidates would split the vote in favour of ZANU-PF since most of the fringe political formations belong to the reform bloc that is fighting to end the status quo as represented by President Mugabe's party.

"They (smaller parties) are seen by the public as opposition to ZANU-PF hence they buttress the perception of a fragmented opposition to the extent that those who vote for them are seen as potential MDC voters hence they split the opposition to ZANU-PF," said Chitanga.

"What this simply means is that they are distributing votes separately amongst their parties without chipping off the block that votes ZANU-PF and therefore reducing chances for change of regime," he added.

As the country edges towards polls, some fly by night politicians might also emerge, probably sponsored by rival parties to spoil the party for others.

Human rights lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, said while every citizen seeking to contest for public office has the right to do so under the country's electoral laws as well as under international law, the reality of it was that a crowded race would split votes.

"Just like in 2008, it is a two-horse race and most of the parties are spoilers. Their chances are nil," he said.

But as the poll approaches, there has not been any serious mobilisation on the ground at a critical moment when the public is getting exhausted with party politics.

Sadly also, the parties seeking to contest in the elections are not vigorously pushing for a free and fair poll so that the outcome would reflect the will of the people.

It increasingly looks like whatever happens in the next elections there would be a retreat from both engaging with the State and confronting the same as ordinary people would focus more on their means of survival.

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