ELECTIONS would not only be a battle to win over the hearts and minds of the young voters but would be an economic fight between the main political contenders, says Ray Ndlovu.
WITH the next elections now on the horizon, attention has shifted to policies that the three main political parties; ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations would offer to voters.
Tacit acknowledgement within political circles is that the next plebiscite would not only be a battle to win over the hearts and minds of the young voters who make up nearly 60 percent of the national population, but would be an economic fight between the main political contenders.
Never have the political stakes been so high ahead of fresh elections as the country's stalled economic growth has provided fertile ground for the political parties to plead their case to voters.
The economy has shrunk, with a growth rate of 4,4 percent projected at the end of last year.
Intimations by the International Monetary Fund are that the economy may not grow beyond the five percent benchmark this year.
Foreign debt is nearly US$10 billion and the manufacturing industry, according to the Industry and Commerce Ministry is operating at below 50 percent of capacity utilisation -- hard hit by imports from South Africa that make up 65 percent of all imports.
On the domestic front, the country's largest workforce -- the civil servants -- remain agitated over low monthly salaries of US$250 per month and have become all the more militant in their push for salary hikes.
The civil servants have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of bankruptcy by the cash-strapped unity government, which Finance Minister Tendai Biti last month said had only US$217 left in its coffers after paying the public workers.
Political observers say the shift to an economic arena was a welcome transition from the country's bloody political landscape which, since 2000, has often been marked by threats, violence and political clashes between the rival parties.
Doubts persist, however, from one school of thought over the sincerity among politicians towards upholding peace and whether the pending election slated for mid-year could mark the coming of age among the political rivals.
President Robert Mugabe has expediently sought to dispel any doubts over the country's next trajectory as the polls loom and has been calling for peace by using every national platform to champion the cause.
"We do not want violence... Let's unite and vote properly and correctly, but no to violence. We need to go out and vote so that we get rid of this three-headed creature", said President Mugabe last week while addressing the annual chiefs' conference in Masvingo.
While President Mugabe persists with his peace call, ZANU-PF belligerence on the economic front is likely to continue as the veteran ruler is pinning his hopes on re-election on redistributing wealth from the minority whites to the majority blacks.
ZANU-PF's campaign is focussing on economic emancipation under the indigenisation programme which compels foreign-owned companies to cede 51 percent of their shareholding to locals.
The MDC-T, on the other hand, launched its Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and Environment economic package last December premised on job creation.
Earlier this month, the MDC led by Welshman Ncube joined the bandwagon, basing its election campaign on an economic blueprint with an acronym ACTIONS, which stands for Access, Control, Transformation, Innovation, Organised Institutions, New Technologies and Sustainability.
While not much is known of the MDC's ACTIONS, critics have ploughed into economic blueprints offered by ZANU-PF and the MDC-T.
Critics say ZANU-PF's indigenisation programme would scare away foreign investment and would only benefit the ruling elite at the expanse of the majority.
But Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, flagged down these concerns saying investors were willing to go into any environment at any terms provided they have the opportunity to make a profit and grow their portfolio.
"Investors have been known to go in environments that enforce 100 percent local ownership. By and large, the indigenisation policies have not stopped foreign direct investment inflows," he said.
The MDC-T's economic blueprint is seen as an attempt to slam the brakes on ZANU-PF's indigenisation programme and achieving economic growth.
Trevor Shiri, a political analyst, said if the MDC-T is building on progress made by ZANU-PF, it should come out clean as opposed to projecting itself as an inventive party that is re-inventing the wheel.
"ZANU PF has made great strides in empowering the people through various programmes since 1980. The MDC-T should not then claim to be bringing change, when in actual fact it is only re-packaging successful ZANU-PF programmes and then claim that it owns them", said Shiri.
"Other than re-branding ZANU-PF policies, the MDC-T is also only projecting and seeking to protect the interests of neo-colonialists through pushing for property rights of capital interests headquartered in the United States and Britain. Zimbabweans should not be moved by this sheer folly".
Tafadzwa Musarara, the chairperson of Resources Exploitation Watch, said the MDC-T must realise that local ownership of capital is a global phenomenon irrespective of which country one is in.
"One can argue about thresholds but not the principle. Any other careless option would leave countries at the mercy of foreign capital and ultimately foreign political influence," he said.