The emergence of the National Patriotic Front (NPF) led by the former minister of state for Mashonaland East provincial affairs, Retired Brigadier-General Ambrose Mutinhiri, has created possibilities of what could be described as "the NPF Factor" in the oncoming 2018 elections.
This phenomenon entails shrinking Zanu PF's ease of election manoeuvring and support base, increasing chances of an indecisive presidential result, shrinkage of Zanu-PF parliamentary dominance and heightened chances of a win by a "reasonable" coalition of opposition forces.
If real, developed and dispersed countrywide, there are more positives than negatives as far as the cure of a 37-year-old "one-party" dominant state pandemic is concerned.
Upon announcement of the NPF's formation, the Zanu-PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya Moyo, hastily called a press conference to rubbish Mutinhiri and his "alleged" shadow ally "Mr" Robert Mugabe and the so-called "G40 cabal".
Possibilities of a political transition to a democratic dispensation following the 2018 elections has become a trending wish and expectation in Zimbabwe and this NPF factor cannot be left out when possible influencers and game changers are considered.
Three implications on the outcome of the elections and transitioning thereafter can be expected, given this potentially game-changing NPF Factor: (1) the Egyptian 2014 scenario, which is the most likely, (2) the Kenyan 2002 scenario, which is likely, and (3) the least-likely wherein free and fair elections are conducted and the MDC-Alliance gets a resounding victory.
As far as the transition to a democratic dispensation is concerned, the most likely scenario is the "worst case scenario", the likely is the "best case scenario", whereas the least likely is the "fair case scenario" in terms of capability to transit Zimbabwe across the steps to democracy as stipulated in transitology.
Firstly, the Egyptian 2014 scenario is the most-likely case to happen in Zimbabwe's coming elections. After the military-backed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi organised an uncontested election with an electoral environment grossly skewed in his favour, some contending candidates were arrested and tortured. The opposition tried to boycott but the President did not tolerate dissent, he crushed them and won the election through coercion and electoral manipulation, while riding roughshod over democracy.
Although opposition political parties tried to contest and protest against the result, they got no attention from the international system and local courts. They were decisively suppressed and silenced by el-Sisi and the army.
This is "most likely" to happen in Zimbabwe as we also have a history of 37-year rule by one man, which was characterised by tyranny and no tolerance to dissent. And he who governs now was formerly the advisor who eventually deputised in that one-man rule.
Given President Emmerson Mnangagwa's purported popularity after a successful "coup", his obvious military backup, his militarisation of state institutions that matter in naming the winner and silencing challengers, villages, where majorities reside and electoral environment, his regional endorsement, his use of Mugabe's divide-and-rule schematics, Zanu-PF's history of organising and winning disputed elections vis-à-vis the opposition's recent degrading upheavals, it is "most likely" that Mnangagwa will win the elections.
Mnangagwa and his military regime will later be accused of rigging elections by opposition parties but opposition call for domestic and international isolation of the new regime will be to no avail; the international community would have been charmed to endorse Mnangagwa, local courts have already been captured in anticipation of a Kenya nullified result eventuality and the army will step in and ensure Mnangagwa's victory. In this case, the NPF factor will be neutralised.
This is the "worst case scenario" as far as the transition to a democratic dispensation is concerned. Junta governments hardly ever deliver democracy because democracy is not an area of competence for a militarised cabal.
The "likely" scenario, that is to say, the "most-likely" if the above-stated realities of electoral irregularities are removed, is the Kenyan 2002 scenario. Given that all opposition forces, democratic and autocratic, friends and worst enemies, coalesce to defeat the junta party, a Kenyan 2002 result which saw the unity of opposition political parties that ended the 23-year rule of the Kenyan African National Union will be witnessed in Zimbabwe. This scenario is largely dependent on the impact of the NPF factor. NPF is not popular enough to win by itself. The same applies to the MDC-T with its history of internal violence, endless splits and the politically injurious effects of Mnangagwa's policy plagiarism--people could lose interest.
In this scenario, the MDC Alliance formally teams up with NPF and Rainbow Coalition, and electoral reforms are implemented timely. This unity can also come as an informal process where structures of the latter are mobilised to vote against Mnangagwa to the benefit of the MDC Alliance's presidential candidate.
The 2013 election results, Mugabe's Zanu-PF against Tsvangirai's MDC-T, came with a ratio of approximately 2:1 respectively. If MDC Alliance incorporates Mujuru and maybe later NPF (splitting Zanu-PF votes), the coming election results are likely to favour the allied forces. This might also be due to the fact that Mujuru together with Mutinhiri and his NPF team have worked closely with Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF for more than four decades; they beat Zanu-PF at its own game.
This will be the best-case scenario as far as the transition to a democratic dispensation is concerned as it will be a combination of various and variegated interest groups which enables the formation of consociational democracy -- a situation wherein policies are as a result of tedious negotiations and debates amongst various interest brokers.
The former president Mugabe together with the thrashed G40 cabal are likely to support Mutinhiri out of retaliatory, opportunistic or strategic ends. This is what Zanu-PF must fear the most, considering the fact that many top officials populating its structures are fugitives of a "hide from Lucifer in Lucifer's prayer closet" type who fled Mugabe the moment his seat heated up.
Such political refugees are likely to do the same to Mnangagwa and his military regime in the coming elections if any force "heats up" his seat and the NPF factor has the potential to do exactly that. Most Zanu- PF officials and former officials are denying claims by Mutinhiri that NPF commands the support of two thirds of Zanu-PF officials as they fear the Chipanga and Chombo experience of Lacoste persecution .
The former president Mugabe did not dream or at least tell the nation his dream of being ousted by his trusted right-hand men. For him, it was more like waking up from a bad dream; the same might happen to Mnangagwa, his trusted Zanu-PF officials given total immunity might turn their backs on him and support any Zanu-PF off-shoot that proves to be a popular political option. If this is true, Zanu-PF's votes in the coming elections are likely to be split with more than half going to NPF.
The last and "least likely" scenario is a resounding "do-it- alone" win by the MDC Alliance against Zanu-PF, NPF and all other parties without electoral reforms. As said earlier, the divided MDC then led by the late Tsvangirai had approximately half the Zanu-PF votes in the 2013 presidential elections.
The AU and the Sadc missions cited a number of anomalies in the electoral process and the late MDC-T leader labelled the outcome as null and void. These same irregularities are still intact and to some extent intensified by Mnangagwa's military regime.
It is, therefore, "least likely" that the MDC Alliance can pull off a "do-it- alone" electoral victory without direct or indirect support from Zanu PF's fallen heroes and speedy electoral reforms. Although it can be acknowledged that if MDC offshoots which also comprised of approximately a third of the vote outcome in 2013 have joined together, the youth bulge in the votes' roll and young people's eagerness for change could give Chamisa a competitive advantage.
This seems likely only in a country with timely electoral reforms to ensure a competitive and fair contest. This win, if it ever happens, will be by a very narrow margin. This scenario will be a "fair case" scenario as far as transition to a democratic dispensation is concerned. Chamisa's win would ensure civilian leadership, demilitarisation of politics and heightened political contestation.
The above-mentioned scenarios depend on fundamental determinants: the "road" to be taken by Mnangagwa's government in dealing with the nature of the electoral environment and the extent of '"ompromise and unity of purpose" among political parties in the opposition.
The opposition has a lot to do in order to force Mnangagwa and the electoral management body to democratis the electoral framework. For instance, Stepan (1990) argued that the dynamics of authoritarian regimes and the prospects for regime change also depend on the relationship between the regime and democratic opposition.
He argued that we can understand regime dynamics on the basis of the interactions among the core regime supporters, the coercive apparatus, passive supporters, passive opponents, and active opponents.
He outlined five critical tasks for the opposition in roughly ascending order of complexity: "(1) resisting integration into the regime; (2) guarding zones of autonomy against it; (3) disputing its legitimacy; (4) raising the costs of authoritarian rule; and (5) creating a credible democratic alternative."
The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) is a politically independent and not for profit public policy think-tank based in Zimbabwe