ZIMBABWE Opposition political parties’ chances of a victory in 2018 national elections appear dim against a well resourced Zanu PF machine, but last year’s surprise victory by Ghana and Gambia’s opposition gives hope that with a well thought-out Election Campaign Strategy, the apple cart can still be turned.
By Darlington Nyambiya
However, an Opposition victory can only happen if the parties decide to form a United Front. Zimbabwe needs a United Opposition that would combine resources, consolidate the support base and confront the ruling party as a single and focused unit from a position of strength. In fact, former US president Bill Clinton once said ‘seven days is a long time in politics and anything can happen’, so a United Opposition needs to build the ground work for a possible election victory.
Nic Cheeseman has argued that last year’s Opposition victory in Ghana was underpinned by four factors. A mirror synopsis of the Ghana Opposition’s victory last year in December 2016 reflects almost similar challenges that may be faced by Zimbabwe’s Opposition in the 2018 Elections. The four factors identified by Nic Cheeseman and his team were as follows:
Ø Electoral Commission
First, the Ghana Electoral Commission has a relatively strong legal foundation and has developed a reputation for independence. During his time as Chair Kwadeo Afari-Gyan presided over a number of improvements, including use of the biometric registration and verification of voters and introduction of greater checks and balances. Although Afari-Gyan stood down in 2015 – and his replacement Charlotta Osei has been accused of being partial to the government – the system was further strengthened in 2016 by the introduction of electronic vote transmission from the constituency level to the EC’s headquarters in Accra, which made it harder to manipulate the result during the collation process.
As in most cases, the incumbent president will always have an advantage, and in the case of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Election Commission has also been accused of being partial to Zanu PF so a United Opposition will need to employ political, legal and counter-rigging manoeuvres to keep the election management body in check.
Like in Ghana the introduction of biometric registration and verification of voters will bring the much needed improvement but a United Opposition needs to push for greater transparency in the management of elections. A United Opposition needs to push on two key issues; proof of residence and poll station based voting that will likely have a negative effect on perceived opposition supporters. A United Opposition also needs to push on checks and balances on the security of both the vote and the voter.
Ø Uneven Electoral Playing Field
Second, the police and the security forces are largely impartial, enabling opposition activists to campaign throughout the country – even in the government’s strongholds. This did not mean that the campaign was conducted on a completely level playing field – the government continued to enjoy the benefits of incumbency and had much more money to spend. But combined with the considerable degree of tolerance between rival supporters at the local level, it did create the opportunity for the NPP to spread its own message – encouraging NDC loyalists unprepared to vote for any other party to stay at home in order to allow “change” to occur.
Opposition Opportunity: Relative Peace
As the 2018 elections draw closer, the ruling party is more likely to campaign using low level strong arm tactics and avoid naked violence so that the elections can pass as free and fair in the eyes of the international community. The 2013 election rigging model which was largely peaceful is likely to be utilised by Zanu PF in the 2018 elections, albeit with modifications which are only likely to be caused by immense pressure from a United Opposition.
A United Opposition must take full advantage of this likely peaceful scenario and embolden the citizen to campaign freely and vote in large numbers. More importantly a United Opposition must encourage the rural electorate to shed fear in this time of relative peace and vote for change.
A United Opposition must take cognisance that most ruling parties in the world over enjoy the benefits of incumbency and have much more money to spend during election campaigns but more importantly it is the campaign message of a United Opposition that will have an impact on the electorate. A United Opposition must continue to build confidence with state institutions to enable for a smooth transition of power in the unlikely event for an opposition victory.
Ø Economic Difficulties
Third, the country’s economic difficulties, combined with the perception that the NDC had lost touch with its own supporters, undermined the party’s ability to mobilise its own supporters. While the NPP managed to repeat or improve the number of votes it won in 2012, the NDC saw its numbers fall dramatically. This is best demonstrated by the difficulties that the ruling party faced in the Volta Region, which is known locally as the NDC’s “World Bank” because of its consistent and overwhelming support for the party. In Ho Central, the regional capital, turnout fell from 78 percent in 2012 to 63 percent this time around due to a widespread sense that the people most loyal to the NDC had not benefited enough from its time in office.
Opposition Opportunity: Economic Implosion
A United Opposition should take full advantage of the Economic Implosion in Zimbabwe and drive the message to perceived Zanu PF strongholds in rural areas like Uzumba and encourage older Zanu Pf supporters not to vote because only ruling party leaders are benefitting at the expense of the poor who are bearing brunt of the ruling party’s economic mismanagement. .
A United Opposition could tactically persuade voters in perceived Zanu PF strongholds to do a bhora musango by pointing out that even the children of ruling party supporters are unemployed due to the mismanagement of the economy by the ruling party.
A United Opposition can also lay the blame of economic challenges on the ruling party by highlighting looting and corruption by top government officials which directly impacts on underdevelopment in Zanu PF strongholds. The United Opposition can even persuade younger Zanu PF supporters to switch support by promising to improve the current economic situation and provide jobs for the unemployed youth.
Ø Election Slogan
Fourth, the NPP’s election slogan for people to look at your living conditions and vote clearly resonated with many Ghanaians and especially with the young who have gone to school and college but struggle to find jobs – with many left living at home “sitting on their parents”. In NDC strongholds, it was younger voters that were most likely to break with their parents and either vote for the NPP, or to stay away from the polls – and persuade their friends to do the same. At the same time, the NPP dismissed the NDC’s emphasis on various government projects – from almost 200 new secondary schools across the country, together with numerous clinics, markets and roads – as the work of any government, and as something that was relatively easy to achieve when you borrow money from the international community.
Opposition: Resonating Message
A United Opposition now needs to move away from its out dated election slogan of the last 18 years. Zimbabwe’s electorate is now politically mature and will not be bamboozled by the opposition’s outdated slogan of ‘Vote for Change’. The voters are looking for the next government that will address their political, social and economic concerns of the present and the future.
The main advantage to a United Opposition is that the game changers of the 2018 elections will be the born frees who will form the largest voting block and are not attached to Zanu PF’s past glory days of the liberation struggle. And due to Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, even Ghana’s opposition campaign message of “look at your living conditions and vote” will resonate with the three voting blocks of ; urban dwellers, rural folks and the born frees.
In conclusion, a United Opposition must push for reforms on the checks and balances on the security of both the vote and the voter. It must continue to build confidence with state institutions to enable for a smooth transition of power in the unlikely event of an opposition victory.
Last but not least , a United Opposition must take full advantage of the Economic Implosion in Zimbabwe and drive the message in perceived Zanu PF strongholds. An election campaign that addresses the bread and butter issues will resonate with most Zimbabweans and will likely carry a United Opposition to victory in the 2018 Elections.
Darlington Nyambiya is the President of the Local Solutions Council (LSC).The LSC is Zimbabwe’s leading Think Tank with members from diverse Zimbabwean communities in politics, business , religion and sports. He is also a Pro Democracy Activist, Political Strategist, Human Rights Defender, Social Media Commentator, Writer, Preacher and a Business Executive. , Twitter handle: D_Nyambiya, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , Corporate Twitter Handle: Lsc_thinktank, Website: www.localsolutionscouncil.com. © 2017 All Rights Reserved. The Article may not be published or reproduced in any form without prior written permission
Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis: http://roape.net/2016/12/23/making-history-ghana-opposition-won-election/