Beyond influencing future leadership, the result will ascertain Zimbabwe’s capacity to tackle its economic hurdles, fortify democratic structures, and establish positive interactions with the global community
On August 23, Zimbabweans will vote in what promises to be a closely contested election to determine their country’s next president. Eleven candidates vie for the presidency as the nation stands at a crossroads, but the most significant contest is anticipated to be between incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
In light of Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties, allegations of repression, and international scrutiny, the outcome of this election is of the utmost importance for the country’s future.
A rematch of rivals?
The forthcoming election sets the stage for a rematch between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa. Mnangagwa, age 80, has been in power since a rebellion in 2017 placed him in place of Robert Mugabe. Since independence in 1980, he has led the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the party in power. On the other hand, charismatic opposition figure 45-year-old Chamisa leads the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which was formed in 2022 following a schism from the Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance.
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This rematch is reminiscent of the 2018 presidential election, in which Mnangagwa narrowly defeated Chamisa, generating both hopes and fears. In the 2018 election, Chamisa placed second with 44% of the vote.
Lovemore Madhuku, an activist and constitutional law professor for the National Constituent Assembly, is also included in this group. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), Douglas Mwonzora, withdrew his candidacy on August 8, claiming that the election was a sham, but the electoral commission stated that the ballot papers had already been printed.
The remaining candidates are-
- Joseph MakambaBusha: FREEZIM Congress
- Trust TapiwaChikohora: ZCPD
- Blessing Kasiyamhuru: ZIPP
- LovemoreMadhuku: NCA
- Wilbert ArchbaldMubaiwa: NPC
- Gwinyai Henry Muzorewa: The UANC
- Harry Peter Wilson: DOP
The voting process and dynamics
This is the ninth election since the country’s independence in 1980 for a population of approximately 16.3 million. According to Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution, general elections must be held every five years. The most recent election took place in July 2018. There are a total of 6,500,000 registered voters across 12,340 polling stations in the country’s 10 provinces.
The election includes ballots for the president, the legislature, and the local council. The 270-member National Assembly is composed of both single-member districts and proportional representation. The Senate has eighty members.
On election day, registered voters cast secret ballots, with a candidate for president needing more than 50 percent of the vote to win uncontested. Otherwise, a runoff between the top two candidates takes place between 28 and 42 days later. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) oversees the electoral process.
Key issues ahead of election
Concerns about the economy loom large over this election. Zimbabwe faces a bleak economic environment characterized by hyperinflation, high unemployment rates, and currency devaluation. In the 12 months preceding May of this year, prices increased by 86.5%, one of the world’s greatest annual inflation rates. This year alone, the Zimbabwean dollar lost an astounding 80 percent of its value against the US dollar. Corruption remains a pervasive problem that undermines public confidence in the government. The local currency lost 86% of its value between January and early June, making it difficult for businesses to function. In addition, the revelations of gold smuggling by government-affiliated individuals revealed in an Al Jazeera documentary, fueled public outrage. The inadequacy of quality healthcare, education, energy, and fundamental services consistently ranks among the top concerns of citizens, thereby exacerbating discontent.
As Zimbabwe’s economy is in disarray due to soaring inflation, electricity shortages, and a collapsing currency, Mnangagwa’s promises of reform and re-engagement with international partners have produced limited results due to concerns over human rights violations and lack of progress. A lack of substantial reforms and transparency has impeded Zimbabwe’s attempts to engage with the West.
Uneven playing field and repression
Multiple factors tilt the scales in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF, despite official claims of a free and impartial election. Against arrests, harassment, and violence, the opposition confronts an uphill battle. Concerns have been expressed about the Patriotic Bill and the Private Voluntary Organizations Amendment Bill stifling dissent and restricting civil society. The function of the electoral commission and the potential influence of former military personnel within it undermines public faith in the electoral process.
The legacy of electoral violence, including incidents in 2008 and 2018, fuels fears of potential post-election violence. 59% of Zimbabweans tell respondents they fear becoming victims of violence during the 2023 election campaign.
To assure transparency, Zimbabwe has invited foreign observer missions, including those from the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the European Union, and the Carter Center in the United States. These observer groups could potentially deter flagrant manipulation of the electoral process in regions under their watch. However, coordination among these missions is essential in order to present a unified assessment of the election and prevent the mixed messages that emerged in 2018, when various observer groups provided divergent assessments of the election’s fairness.
What could be the aftermath?
As the election approaches, predictions regarding its outcome remain diverse. Incumbency and rural support favor ZANU-PF, but due to the economic crisis, urban areas and the youth demand a change. The opposition’s strength, led by Chamisa’s CCC, depends on its ability to navigate repression and overcome the governing party’s financial advantage. International observer missions, such as those from the African Union and the European Union, will play a role in ensuring the integrity of the election. However, concerns persist that ZANU-PF may employ tactics to maintain its hold on power, calling into doubt the integrity of the election.
Lastly, the forthcoming election in Zimbabwe will have profound effects on the nation’s trajectory. As Zimbabweans prepare to vote, they must choose between continuity under the current government and change under opposition leadership. This election is complicated by economic difficulties, repression allegations, and international scrutiny. In addition to shaping the future leadership, the outcome will determine whether Zimbabwe can resolve its economic challenges, strengthen democratic institutions, and engage constructively with the international community.