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Is Mnangagwa willing to risk free elections as trade-off to end financial curbs?

Ruling party plays up better economic news as latest opinion polls shows growing opposition support

A month ahead of national elections, a trickle of good news about Zimbabwe's economy has given campaigners for the ruling party a more credible message.

But worries about violence and vote-rigging persist in what could be a turnaround election for the country. If the polls are deemed credible by international observers, they could end financial restrictions on the government and open the door for an agreement to restructure debt and repay long-term arrears.

This trade-off is being managed by Mozambique's former President Joaquim Chissano and the African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina (AC Vol 64 No 15, Chamisa wrestles with the crocodile, again). They are mediating an assessment of the government's record on macro-economic policy, governance (including free elections next month) and land reform.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, a former vice-president at the AfDB who is standing as an MP for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has been cheerleading the government's economic reform programme.

But he also been battling vested business and political interests which have allowed massive outflows of state revenues into private account linked to the most senior members of ZANU-PF (AC Vol 64 No 15, ZANU-PF takes a cut of the green economy).

The rate of consumer price increases has slowed by 15.3% in July, compared to 75% in June, according to the National Statistics Agency. Finance companies in Harare say the government's edict that company taxes must be settled in Zimbabwe dollars has boosted the local currency and slowed inflation.

Ncube sees the strengthening of the Zimbabwe dollar as vindicating his efforts to liberalise the foreign exchange market in Harare.  These nuggets of good news have to be set in the context of the medium performance: the Zimbabwe dollar was the world's worst performing currency this year and interest rates are still running at 150%.

If the elections are free, these latest economic improvements may not be enough to get ZANU-PF over the line according to Jonathan Moakes, the political director of the SABI Strategy Group. Assessing data from the latest independent opinion surveys, Moakes argues that the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) should have 'substantial confidence' about the chances of victory.

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