By Dr. Diana Rangaves, PharmD
Zimbabwe’s political landscape is dynamic and complex, with its presidential elections held in two rounds and its National Assembly composed of both directly elected and proportionally elected members.
As the country prepares for the 2023 elections, it is crucial to delve into the insights and intricacies of Zimbabwe’s electoral system. From the role of constituencies to the representation of women in parliament, this article offers a deep dive into the upcoming elections and the unique features of Zimbabwe’s political framework.
On August 23, Zimbabwe will hold presidential and parliamentary elections, with the protracted economic crisis in the southern African nation; allegations of a crackdown on its opponents are again set to take center stage. Despite the removal of longtime leader Robert Mugabe in 2017, many claim that not much has changed. In the lead-up to the election, there are concerns about how free and fair the voting will be in a nation attempting to repair its reputation.
Eleven people are running for president. This is far less than the 23 who ran in the previous election in 2018, no doubt as a result of the candidates’ increased expenses, which have gone from $1,000 (£800) to $20,000 (£16,000). However, the election is most likely to be a struggle between the incumbent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the governing Zanu-PF party and the leader of the opposition, Nelson Chamisa, of the Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC).
Mr. Mnangagwa, 80, has been the president of Zimbabwe since the military forced Robert Mugabe to quit in 2017 and then won a disputed election the following year. He was a long-time ally of Mugabe before the two fell out.
Mr Chamisa, 45, finished second in 2018 with 44% of the vote. A court ruling in 2020 stripped him of the leadership of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and he lost access to party assets and government funds. He founded the CCC in 2022, is still highly popular in metropolitan areas, and is the opposition’s prominent face.
Political analysts believe the race is skewed in favor of Mnangagwa and the ZANU-PF, which has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and is poised to maintain power by controlling state institutions. The opposition receives little airtime in state media, and police frequently halt its campaign gatherings.
Other candidates include the MDC’s new leader, Douglas Mwonzora, and Elisabeth Valerio, the only female candidate. She was disqualified, but she was able to overturn the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s decision to reject her candidacy papers.
What are the primary concerns?
In mineral-rich Zimbabwe, the economy remains the most important electoral issue. Hopes that it would recover under Mnangagwa swiftly evaporated, leaving civilians with severe power shortages and skyrocketing prices. In June, year-on-year inflation hit 176%, making it one of the highest in the world.
After a decade of dollarisation, Mnangagwa reintroduced the Zimbabwe dollar in 2019, and it has plummeted by more than 80% this year. Unemployment remains high, a key election problem for young people under 35, who account for 70% of the population.
Due to its $14 billion foreign debt, over half of which is in arrears, Zimbabwe has also struggled to attract international finance to revamp its infrastructure and sectors such as manufacturing, tourism, and mining.
Meanwhile, businesses are coping with devastating power outages and an unstable local currency that lost 86% of its value between January and early June. Allegations of corruption are also a cause of dissatisfaction, with a relatively low incidence of prosecution. During the Covid pandemic, equipment was purportedly purchased at exorbitant prices; the health minister was dismissed but later acquitted by the courts.
What the candidates offer
Mnangagwa, whose campaign speeches are often peppered with nationalist rhetoric evocative of African liberation battles, claims that his government has provided chances for locals in the economy through policies, which encourage their participation in industries such as mining and agriculture.
Chamisa, on the other hand, claims that Mnangagwa’s policies benefit a small, well-connected elite. He promises to expand the economy, combat corruption, and eliminate Zimbabwe’s isolation. Chamisa claims that a CCC government would impose fiscal discipline, restore respect for human and property rights, and attract investment.
How the elections work
According to the electoral commission, 6.6 million individuals have registered to vote in this year’s election, up from 5.7 million in 2018. A contender must receive over 50% votes to win the presidency. According to law, the presidential election results must be announced within five days of the polls closing. If no clear winner emerges, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held on October 2.
Candidates for parliamentary and local council seats require a simple majority of votes cast. Even though a sizable proportion of its population lives outside the nation, primarily in neighboring South Africa, Zimbabwe does not allow its residents to vote abroad.
What occurred in the 2018 elections?
Five years ago, the president received 50.8% of the vote in the first round, but there was violence on election day, with six people murdered as security forces opened fire on protestors.
Observers largely praised the freedom of movement during the campaign season and the relative calm on election day. Still, the EU, for example, pointed out fundamental flaws, such as exploiting state resources in favor of the incumbent.
According to the EU, the final results presented by the Electoral Commission had significant inaccuracies. Mr. Chamisa’s party failed in its legal effort to overturn the result, claiming that the presidential and parliamentary vote tallies were incorrect by tens of thousands of votes.
Mr. Mnangagwa and Mr. Chamisa will face off for the second time in this election. Civil society organizations and the opposition are skeptical that the elections will be free and fair. They point to what they call a systematic crackdown on government critics. Over the previous two years, the arrests and convictions of opposition politicians and government critics have increased.
The election reforms the opposition has long sought, such as leveling the playing field, providing access to public media, and removing ex-military people from the electoral body, have yet to be implemented. According to CCC leader Mr. Chamisa, over 60 of the party’s meetings were prohibited or disrupted by police during by-elections last year, raising concerns that it will happen again.