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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 31st May 2018

Zimbabwe's high hopes for a free choice

Blue Lines

The one unsurprising thing about Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary elections is the date: they are now set for 30 July with a rerun on 8 September if no candidate clears 50% in the first round of the presidential poll. Few want to see a second round.

Many political insiders predict this year's vote will produce a coalition. Some insist that talks have already started. But political conditions are defying expectations in many ways. Six months ago, few believed that the elections would be remotely free and that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, and ZANU-PF were heading for an epic majority.

Now the Movement for Democratic Change's Presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, 40, has the momentum and spends half the week addressing mass rallies around the country telling the electorate, 60% of whom are under 40, that the MDC is the party of youth and change. Despite his gaffes and a lacklustre BBC interview, Chamisa's message is hitting its mark at a time of record youth unemployment and a chronic foreign exchange shortage.

It's all to play for in the next two months. ZANU-PF is expected to use its incumbency and cash reserves – giant posters of a smiling Mnangagwa already adorn billboards across every city in the country – to claw back the advantage. This time, unlike a decade ago, it will be doing so under the spotlight of thousands of well-equipped and trained local and international election observers.