Political and Electoral System:

Zimbabwe is a presidential republic, with a bicameral legislature comprised of a Parliament (or House of Assembly) and Senate. All three, and local governments will be voted upon on the 29th of March. The executive branch of government holds a considerable amount of power within the political system, both under the constitution, and increasingly so in practice under Robert Mugabe. However, the cabinet’s role is often overtaken by ZANU PF’s politburo under the current government. The judiciary has spent a long time fighting to remain independent, especially during the 2000 land reforms, but the High Courts have been ignored on a regular basis by Mugabe’s government.

The Parliament and Senate are elected by single member constituencies and partially appointed by the President. The Parliament has 120 elected members, 20 presidential appointees and 10 elected tribal chiefs. The Senate has 50 elected members, 6 appointed members and 10 elected chiefs. The system of appointing could be one Mugabe could use in his favour if the parliamentary elections go against ZANU PF, in a similar way he did to restore a proper parliamentary majority after the elections of 2005.

The Presidential Candidates:

Robert Mugabe – Current president and Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) candidate. Mugabe was 84 in Feburary, and with Zimbabwean presidential terms lasting six years, if he does win another term in office, there is a great sense that this will be his last – although they did say that in 2002 as well, so this is no guarantee. It is, however, suspected that if he does win, he will use the next presidential term to anoint a successor from within ZANU PF. He has not lost an election since the very first majority rule elections in 1980, and has been an executive president since 1987. He relies heavily on the legacy and language of the guerrilla war against both the British and Ian Smith’s UDI government (the Second Chimurenga), and most of ZANU PF’s core support come from rural, Shona areas of Zimbabwe. However, with the massive decline in the economy since 2000, and increasing issues of food and water shortages, civil unrest, lack of healthcare and unemployment, President Mugabe should be facing his toughest challenge yet in the 2008 elections.

Morgan Tsvangirai – Current leader of the opposition and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) candidate. Tsvangirai is much younger than Mugabe, and started his political career as a trade unionist in the Associated Mine Workers Union, rising to political prominence when he became the Secretary-General of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 1989. During his ten year period in this position, he gradually began to separate ZCTU from ZANU PF and quickly became an enemy of the ZANU PF government, with several government accusations of aiming to turn all the workers of Zimbabwe against their government. In the run up to the 2000 elections, Morgan Tsvangirai formed the MDC to run in direct opposition to ZANU PF and in 2002, Robert Mugabe.

Despite voter intimidation and violence, the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai did surprisingly well in both the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections and 2002 presidential election, with 40% of the vote in 2002 and 57 and 41 out of 120 elected seats in 2000 and 2005 respectively. He has been arrested several times for supposed involvement in an assassination plot against Mugabe, for threatening at a rally that if elections were not fairly carried out, they would “remove him violently” and for ‘treason’, but charges were dismissed in court every time. On the 11th of March 2007, he was arrested and beaten violently by the police, which sparked an international outcry and his release by the 28th of March. Tsvangirai will be hoping that Saturday’s elections will overturn Mugabe, despite the political violence and intimidation.

Simba Makoni Former finance minister and ZANU PF party member, running as an independent candidate. He was appointed Finance Minister in 2000 in order to restore relations with donor countries and organisations, but when he went against Mugabe in 2002 by suggesting the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar, he was dismissed from the cabinet. However, he was still a member of ZANU PF’s politburo until he announced his candidacy for president in February and was swiftly dismissed from the party. He is running on a platform of restoring economic stability based around orthodox economics and redistributing the land, but only taking it off those who did not acquire it properly – the implication being that many had not done so.

Makoni has the definite backing of two prominent figures in ZANU PF, the former defence minister, Dusimo Dabengwa and Edgar Takere, and claims to have the support of many more, including the dissident faction of ZANU PF led by Solomon Mujuru, a former army commander and his wife, Joyce Mujuru, current vice-president, but neither have pledged their support as yet. He is perhaps one of the most interesting figures in this election, as it is quite possible he could split the ZANU PF vote, or there are some more cynical opinions that he is designed to split the anti-Mugabe vote, and on the off chance he wins, he could be viewed as a ZANU PF puppet of sorts. As for which happens is something which will remain to be seen.

The Parties and their Manifestos


ZANU PF originally started as the political wing of the Zimbabwean Africa National Liberation Army, Robert Mugabe’s guerrilla forces in the struggle against Ian Smith’s rule, and has always had socialist roots. Many ZANLA soldiers received training from North Korea and ‘war veterans’, whether actual fighters from the guerrilla war, or those that just claimed the title (such as Chengurai Hitler Hunzvi, a former key figure in ZANU PF and the land seizures in 2000), have always been the key areas of their support, along with rural, Shona Zimbabwe. During the 1980s, ZANU PF policies were decidedly Marxist-Leninist, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, their policies drifted away from the far left. Despite not producing a manifesto for this election, President Mugabe did publish a foreword, which I will be using to determine policy instead, which still is distinctly socialist in places.

The main themes of its election policies

- Portraying themselves as the ‘People’s Party’: “Let the People’s Voice thunder across the whole country on the 29th of March, rejecting and damning once and for all the bootlicking British stooges, traitors and sellouts, political witches and political prostitutes, political charlatans and two-headed political creatures. Let the People’s Vote be the People’s Voice. Indeed, Zanu PF is already the People’s Voice.”

- Expansion in education and modernisation: “Our education programme, now universally acclaimed, must advance itself against the background of new technology, especially that of electronics.”

- Improvement in agricultural practice and yields as a basis for economic recovery: “Our post-election development programmes will necessarily emphasise agriculture in both quantitative and qualitative terms, in order to yield more food crops for both consumption and export purposes, with more technologically advanced methods of beneficiation and manufacturing of commodities. New technology will be acquired where necessary.”

- Fighting against foreign intervention and sanctions: “In our fight against foreign interference, and the fight against sanctions, we shall always strive to maintain our solidarity and co-operation with all our regional and international friends, bilaterally and also through all regional and international organisations of which we are members, such as Sadc, Comesa, African Union, Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations.”

- Improvements in healthcare, especially in rural regions and to deal with HIV/AIDS: “particularly now in the invidious situation where the HIV and Aids pandemic remains a killer of vast numbers of our people. Hence special care will now have to be given to health, especially in the rural areas.”

Some observations:

There is an obvious theme running throughout the foreword, as there has been throughout ZANU PF’s politics, of portraying anyone but themselves as traitors to the struggle of the Zimbabwean people. There are constant references to Britain and Zimbabwe’s colonial past, and they portray themselves, and only themselves as “the champions of the national struggle against British colonialism" and the idea of a continual struggle is another theme throughout, closing with the remark, “A luta continua!” The policies themselves seem rooted in these ideas, and are (like most pre-election policies) too vague to bind the government to anything specific, but their position is clear enough for people to understand where they’re coming from. Of course, the point remains that ZANU PF have a history of making promises to anyone and everyone which they tend not to keep in the end, but that will remain to be seen.


The MDC was formed in 2000, out of the Zimbabwean Trade Union movement, and was the first party to properly challenge ZANU PF in an election since 1987, when ZANU PF and ZAPU PF merged. The MDC finds its support in urban Zimbabwe, especially Bulawayo, and from the Ndbele minority. Due to its trade unionist background, the MDC considers itself a democratic socialist party, as is clear through its published manifesto. By comparison to what is available from ZANU PF, it is very long, so I shall be summarising, and there is a link to the whole document in the sources, if you’re interested.

Main themes of its election policies

- Restoration of the rule of law, protection of human rights by the constitution and fair democratic process. This is to be done by the writing of a new constitution: “At the heart of the MDC’s law and justice policy lies its recognition of two principles: Fundamental human rights and freedoms are universal and inviolable. The country’s constitution, as its supreme law, must be consistent with this and be in accordance with the people’s wishes for all governance structures.” (pp 9-17)

- Depoliticisation of the defence forces and treat ‘war veterans’ as a special interest group and not part of the armed forces: “The primary objectives of the MDC’s defence policy will be to: Depoliticize the defence forces so that they serve the interests of the nation, not those of the political party in government. Maintain an appropriately sized, highly trained professional army and air force… Equip the defence forces with modern, up-to-date equipment, geared to helping with domestic and regional emergencies and needs.” (pp 18-22)

- Rejoining the Commonwealth and establishing normal diplomatic relations in order to receive international aid: “The immediate goal of the MDC government will be to re-establish full, normal, diplomatic relations with all countries, and to restore Zimbabwe to its rightful place in the community of nations. Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth and resume normal diplomatic activity in all relevant multilateral organizations…in order to mobilize the resources required to stabilize the economy, meet urgent humanitarian needs,” (pp 27-33)

Using a combination of market economics and state intervention to stabilise the economy with help from the international community: “once a new legitimate, democratic government is elected that exhibits its intention to restore human and political rights, economic fundamentals and the rule of law, the international community will assist with this programme initially. The MDC does not, in the long term, want to see the economy dependent on aid.” (pp 47- 59)

Examination of rights to land, redistribution by who can use the land efficiently, with option to leasehold. Farmers who seized land and are using it productively can keep it: “The MDC is fully committed to righting the historical imbalance in land distribution. An MDC government will bring the land crisis to closure through a democratic and participatory process that achieves equitable, transparent, just, lawful and economically efficient distribution and use of land, both for agricultural and other purposes.” (pp 59-71)

Some Observations:

The MDC like their detail, and they have clearly thought through their policies. However, a lot of their policies are very reliant on other factors, outside of their control, which could mean that, if they were elected, they could let a lot of their promises down. They do promise a lot which seems an improbable reality until stable economic circumstances are brought back, and that is one of the few areas where the MDC are much more vague. However, their manifesto struck me as the exact opposite of ZANU PF’s non-existent one – detailed, very well planned and clear.

Pre Election concerns

- There have been allegations of plans by Mugabe’s government to rig the voting in the following ways, some more substantiated than others:

o Printing of extra ballots

o The non-disclosure of a proper digital electoral roll to the opposition party, leading to suspicions that there could be many dead and extra voters on the roll. Instead of a digital copy, the MDC have been given scanned copies of the paper electoral roll, which are absolutely useless to programs designed to check for electoral fraud.

o The difficulty of many Zimbabweans, especially the 4 million or so living in South Africa, Zaire, Kenya and Europe, who should have the right to vote, but will not be able to do so, as well as the economic and infrastructure problems which could make it very difficult, or very unattractive, for many Zimbabweans to vote.

- There are many concerns over electoral intimidation, including:

o Political violence against supporters of the MDC and Simba Makoni, including the recent case of opposition supporters being forced to eat election posters

o The movement of policemen from outside polling stations to inside the polling stations, supposedly to ‘help’ the old and infirm vote.

o Intimidation of rural Zimbabweans by threatening their food supply.

o Biased media coverage of parties.

- Concerns over post electoral violence:

o The MDC have threatened protests, which could easily escalate into violence, if they suspect that the elections have not been fair.

o The chiefs of the police and prison service have refused to work for any body but Robert Mugabe and promise to actively resist any other Government.

- Concerns over international observation:

o EU and United States observers have been barred from the elections

o Observers will instead be from the African Union, China, Russia and Iran.

o The African Union has never declared a Zimbabwean election unfair to date and the other three countries sending observers could easily have their human rights and electoral records called into question themselves.

Tomorrow’s elections are undoubtedly a huge test for Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF, as despite all the electoral bias and intimidation, in previous elections, especially those of 2000, 2002 and 2005, he has never managed to enjoy the massive, 97% ‘popularity’ of other pseudo-democratic leaders. In the current economic climate, for the first time, the determination of opposition supporters could overcome the intimidation of Mugabe’s regime. However, if it does, it is unlikely that Mugabe or ZANU PF will go quietly. If it doesn’t, it is unlikely that the MDC will take it quietly and sit and wait patiently for Mugabe to die.

One way or another, by this time next week, I cannot imagine the streets of Harare being quiet. I will be back in a week with a post election node. Until then, I am going to hope I’m wrong.


BBC 'Simba Makoni profile' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7228205.stm

The Guardian (comment pages) 'The Lion's Roar' http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/11/zimbabwe

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Country Profile: Zimbabwe http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029394365&a=KCountryProfile&aid=1019745115464

Robert Mugabe's Foreword http://www.talkzimbabwe.com/news/130/ARTICLE/1762/2008-03-01.html

MDC Manifesto http://www.talkzimbabwe.com/loadattachment.php?attachmentid=130_1764_84

The Guardian 'Mugabe Warned of Kenya Style Revolt' http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/28/zimbabwe1

The Guardian 'Mugabe's Opponents Forced to Eat Election posters' http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/26/zimbabwe1


Blair, D (2003) Degrees in Violence, London; Continuum

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