Mnanganwa's Authoritarian Elections

Mnanganwa's Authoritarian Elections
Published: 16 July 2018 (544 Views)
"Busing of kids to rallies is Zanu-PF's way of creating the image of a supermajority, which signals to opponents that a contest is hopeless".

- The junta knows the empirical reality that autocracies with elections are more durable than those without them

- The opposition (genuine opposition not pretenders) is giving Zimbabweans a platform for real change

- Citizens are willing to pay high costs and reap uncertain benefits because they strongly disagree with the status quo

- Manipulation and money make elections less than truly democratic

Sitting presidents in most regimes today call voters to the polls, without the intention of levelling the competing field. These are authoritarian elections—by which we mean simply those held in nondemocratic regimes. Zimbabwe is a typical example of a nondemocratic regime. Mnangagwa was not elected by anyone. He forced himself upon the people of Zimbabwe using the power of the gun. His call for elections is a means by which the junta plans to hold onto power by legitimising their wrong deed. The junta knows the empirical reality that autocracies with elections are more durable than those without them.

In their minds, the junta assume that at this electoral moment, the fundamental stability of the regime is not at stake. Generally, when incumbents hold elections, they have overwhelming advantages through their monopolies of state resources and the means of coercion. The Mnangagwa regime is typically characterized by low transparency, weak rule of law, corruption and an ineffective cabinet. The emerging picture is that elections are exercises in "competitive clientelism," wherein Zanu-PF candidates vie for the privilege of accessing state resources. One then wonders why opposition parties run in elections they are unlikely to win, or what drives voters to go to the polls if basic electoral principles are absent. The simple answer is- the opposition (genuine opposition not pretenders) is giving Zimbabweans a platform for real change. Zimbabweans have no choice but to fight the evil that is Zanu-PF otherwise we will see another five years of economic and social meltdown.

The playing field is so clearly skewed in favour of Mnangagwa—given his monopoly over patronage resources and the use of force (we saw a snippet of it in Bindura). The unleashing of soldiers, greedy elements of so-called war veterans and chiefs in rural areas is a Zanu-PF tried and tested tool to force citizens to vote in favour of the incumbent despite their preferences. This has been the "tragic brilliance" of the Mugabe regime and now unfolding before us under Mnangagwa. New dispensation my foot!

Massive resource advantages allow Zanu-PF to outspend on campaigns, deploy legions of canvassers, and, most importantly, patronage goods that bias voters in their favour. In a country hard hit with cash shortages and overflowing with poverty, Zanu-PF has spent upwards of $60 million US dollars on election campaign. Traditional chiefs have received expensive vehicles- each costing at least $40,000. This is roughly enough to feed 40,000 people per day given most people survive on $1/day. The chiefs are using their shiny vehicles to campaign for Zanu.

Voters who primarily seek to reap patronage benefits support candidates whom they view as sufficiently close to the regime to obtain resources. Unless one is benefiting from the Zanu-PF patronage system, it is hard to understand why else one would support a party and a man responsible for dragging the country back to the dark age.

Zanu-PF has been coercing voters by a "punishment regime" through which its supporters receive payments/handouts such as farming inputs, drought relief and their "enemies" do not. Through its network of loyal traditional leaders, the party can establish linkages with voters necessary to identify supporters and to monitor their behaviour. Without effective targeting of government spoils, the junta would not be able to create a market for political loyalty and deter defections. Simply put, even my grandmother who was previously hardcore Zanu-PF supporter now cringes at the mention of Mnangagwa.

Contrary to the above, opposition parties cannot compete with the regime in offering material inducements or threatening violent consequences. Why, then, do voters support the opposition? Voters may make this choice because of policy differences and more importantly the junta's failure to address major bread and butter issues that include rampant poverty, cash shortages, runaway prices of basic goods, and corruption (amoung other things). In the cities, those casting their ballots for the opposition, appear to be more highly ideological. These citizens are willing to pay high costs and reap uncertain benefits because they strongly disagree with the status quo policies offered by the junta.

Under such a risky environment, voting for the opposition can be likened to a "tipping game," in which citizens will do so if they believe that others will. Matebeleland and Chipinge were the early pacesetters in defying Mugabe's obsession with a one-party state. Over time, other traditionally Zanu-PF "strongholds" started to vote opposition (e.g. rural Masvingo & Manicaland). The defection of key regime supporters (such as Edgar Tekere, G40 & the Gamatox factions), socioeconomic development, and international pressure for democratisation are also helping boost opposition support. The MDC Alliance has clearly emerged the strongest opposition and is serving as a focal point for citizens who want to see an end to the junta regime. I suggest that besides the rampant poverty, voters have become Zanu-PF fatigued. People are simply tired of seeing the same faces in power for four decades- especially Mnangagwa's face.

Zanu-PF candidates are most likely motivated by the prospects of direct access to government ministries and bureaucrats, where they are likely to obtain permits and licenses expediently, to bid successfully on public contracts, and to circumvent government restrictions. In many cases, they enjoy parliamentary immunity, which allows them to "engage in all sorts of extra and sometimes illegal practices and business ventures, making significant sums of money in the process".

With these perks and privileges come even more opportunities to move to higher governmental positions.

However, genuine opposition candidates are most likely to be highly committed opponents of the regime, who value policy and partisan expression as a way of transforming voters' hearts and minds
and strongly disagree with the status quo policies offered by the junta. You can tell that they are willing to pay the high costs of opposition politics- given the level of repression that the junta regime is perpetrating. To the extent that they allow opposition forces to get stronger and to demonstrate that the emperor is naked, that his grip on power is based on manipulation rather than popular consent, elections tend to reinvigorate opposition parties. In doing so, the opposition must ensure that international observers do not accord these elections some legitimacy by participating in poor-quality elections.

Autocrats have a variety of tools to "stage manage" elections and achieve their desired results. Mugabe used widespread violence and repression, ballot-box stuffing, and other extralegal measures to stay in power. He did that, to a degree that gained international attention, but these are not the primary ways in which Mngangagwa plan to hold onto power. The junta elites are exploiting their control over state resources to stay in power. The logic of authoritarian elections creates a system that generally (barring exogenous shocks) helps keep incumbents in power. In addition, ruling elites can also keep a portion of the citizenry (generally, rural constituents) dependent on the regime's largesse for their livelihood.

Zanu-PF has simultaneously put in place a series of policies and institutions that prevent peasants from rising out of poverty and made them systematically dependent on state patronage for their survival. The so-called command agriculture is one of them. Mnangangwa has also been rigorously distributing state resources in the past few months, offering more widespread benefits and salary increases for the military, police, civil servants and expensive cars for traditional chiefs.

The junta is clearly manipulating the rules governing the media, thereby limiting information and making coordination amoung opposition more difficult and limiting their abilities to campaign. Thanks to the rise of social media, who needs the Herald & ZBC anyway. Their relevance is fast approaching extinction. We can also argue that the junta has established the composition and independence of electoral commissions that play a large role in voter registration, ballot paper availability, the counting and certifying of final results. Electoral institutions are highly accessible to incumbents. Most of their work is "behind the scenes", so in many cases institutional rigging is the least costly and least visible option. Additionally, busing kids to rallies is a way of creating the image of a`` supermajority, which signal to potential opponents that a contest is hopeless.

Zikomo twalumba loko. Meet you by the ballot box

- Dr Gus Manatsa


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