Fear factor could sway poll outcome

HARARE - Zimbabwe's presidential, parliamentary and municipal polls will be held on July 30. They will be fought around generational issues and a collapsing economy marked by critical cash and fuel shortages.

Sadly, there have been no opinion polls — except the dubious Nekorach poll — so far to give us a sense of who is heading for a crushing defeat.

But the President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military — whose intervention led to the resignation of long-ruling despot Robert Mugabe — do not seem prepared for such an outcome, and that the threat of violence makes any prediction unreliable at best.

There are so many issues in this election, too many factors at play, and it’s difficult to see things clearly one way or the other.

The run-up to the election has been characterised by a fierce generational debate between the two leading contenders, 75-year-old president Mnangagwa and the 40-year-old challenger and main opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa, who has campaigned on a platform for generational fundamentalism.

There are also fears of an outbreak of violence if the country is forced into a run-off poll in the event that the first round of voting does not produce an outright winner.

This is likely to happen given that there are 128 parties running in this election. The spectre of a run-off — tentatively set for September 8 — is just too ghastly to contemplate given the events of the last run-off in 2008 that was marred by a campaign of violence, blamed largely on militant supporters of the ruling Zanu PF party, that could keep many supporters of the opposition from turning out to vote in the second round.

There is an element of fear hanging in the air, and it will have some negative effect. It is clear the ruling party is hell-bent on harvesting fear it planted in villagers in the 2008 vote in this do-or-die election.

It is incumbent on the opposition to destroy this rural fear factor. The opposition needs more presence in the rural areas to assure rural folk that there won’t be any consequences for their voting choices.

There is also the fear that the army — whose top brass has reportedly warned that it will not accept a victory by the opposition according to junior minister Terrence Mukupe — will back its word with the gun. The presidential election must be widely accepted as free, fair, and credible by international and domestic civil society monitors, and the president-elect must be free to assume duties of the office.

Diplomatic pressure must be brought to bear to dissuade the securocracy from vetoing the transition if Mnangagwa loses.

It is good that international observers from 46 countries, including from US, African Union, Sadc, and EU have been invited.

All candidates must be granted free and full access to State media — equal time and coverage to all registered parties.

It seems for the army-backed ruling party, the contest pits nationalist champions of black interests against a puppet of Western countries that colonial rule left behind.

But for most Zimbabweans, it’s an election to choose between hope and doom.

The ruling party refuses to accept any blame for plunging Zimbabwe into its worst crisis since the former Rhodesia gained independence from Britain in 1980.

They insist the economy has been roundly sabotaged by Western-backed opponents, pointedly the MDC Alliance, who have campaigned for sanctions.

But truth is Zanu PF has wrecked one of Africa’s most promising economies with a spate of failed policies, including the land seizures, indigenisation policies, price controls and fixed exchange rates.

Zimbabwe’s economic indicators tell a sad story.

There are critical cash shortages, unemployment has more than doubled to 90 percent in the last 10 years, and over 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, up from 40 percent in 1990.

A currency black market is booming.  Thousands of desperate Zimbabweans have left for the Diaspora.

A country that was a breadbasket of southern Africa is a basket case today. It’s a sad state of affairs.

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