Manifestos and democracy in Zim

CCC president Nelson Chamisa

MACDONALD Lewanika (2019) in his doctoral thesis argued that contrary to popular opinion Zanu PF is a learning organization, which has changed its electoral practices to suit different needs.

Many in the opposition have been of the view that intimidation and coercive power have been the only tactic that the ruling party has deployed in elections.

The party has, however, used both coercion and campaigns to woe people to vote for them. One of the strategies that have been used in campaigns has been the use of manifestos.  Manifestos have largely been underplayed in the political discourse in the country, with many of the view that people will vote on political lines.

However, one can argue that manifestos are important in clarifying the ideology and the direction with which parties would like to drive the nation.  Manifestos give the politicians talking points, they should inspire hope, foster a vision for people to rally behind.  They are a tool that the people must use in measuring the output of any public representative.

They provide the goals to be achieved. Political parties know this and as one has seen over the years, the political players have made an effort in these.

When one looks back in the past elections, one can see that Zanu PF has been saying practically the same thing over the years and has just been rephrasing and regurgitating the same manifesto over the years. Their manifestos are left leaning, yet at the same time leaning to the capitalist way of thinking when it comes to the way they conduct business. It is interesting to note that their 2013 manifesto’s highlight was ‘Peace begins with you, peace begins with us’. This might have been on the backdrop of the 2008 violent elections and it is curious to note that the ruling party was accused of perpetrating violence against the opposition up to the point where the opposition withdrew from the run-off elections.

The messaging thus seemed aimed to paint the ruling party not as the aggressor.  The opening of the manifesto pointed the nationalist views, the liberation struggle credentials and the fact that they wanted resources for everyone.

In the same election, the main opposition’s manifesto’s theme was a ‘A new Zimbabwe, the time is now’. The opening of that manifesto was more targeted to the lived experiences of the people, highlighting the economic plight the country was facing, international isolation and the need to get back the economy working.

The manifesto was on the backdrop of the 2008 election where the opposition had won more parliamentary seats and a hope to build on that success.

The success of the ministers in their different portfolios was also supposed to aid the opposition in those elections. The MDC’s manifesto had a catchy phrase and was seen to represent the aspirations of the people: The MDC economic plan, presented JUICE strategy (Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital, Environment).

Compared to what the ruling party was selling in their manifesto littered with nationalist sentiments it seemed the opposition had a better offering.  The indigenisation policy was at the driving seat for the ruling party’s campaign and that showed a party that had no ideas of how to grow the economy or simply that their supporters were not bothered.

The ruling party went on to win those elections and this is might strengthen the argument that people basically vote on party lines more than what the parties are proposing to do for the nation.

The 2018 manifesto for Zanu PF did not deviate much from their previous commitments. The manifesto spoke to the nationalist ideals and emphasising that this is the party that brought about independence and so by extension the only party that has national interests of the people.

The tag of the manifesto was the voice of the people is the voice of God. This was repeated from the highest official to the lowest member of the party.  Its intended intention was for the people to feel like they were driving the politics and their wishes would be carried out by the ruling class.

The ideals of that manifesto were; land, economic emancipation, independence, sovereignty, democracy, patriotism, ubuntu, national pride and dignity.

The backdrop of this manifesto was stemming from the fact that opposition parties had been framed as enemies of independence and even though there was no evidence of such, the messaging remained consistent.

In its economic overview, however, there was a change in tone from socialist policies to more neo-liberal outlook. The tag ‘open for business’ was meant to lure investors and, therefore, grow the economy.

The new president sought to present himself as a more liberal and open, more democratic compared to his predecessor. The manifesto was geared to build on the goodwill that the ouster of president Robert Mugabe had gained the ruling party.

The MDC-A, an amalgamation of the opposition was the main contender for the 2018 elections. Unlike in 2013, their tagline was not punch but very technical. The theme was a “New Zimbabwe pledge for a sustainable and modernisations agenda for real transformation”.

This was a very technical manifesto, which was difficult to translate to the masses.  The media was filled with gaffes and debates on the meaning of things that the leader of the opposition was trying to espouse on. The party’s manifesto did an excellent job of defining the crisis that the country was in. This helped them frame the problem succinctly and therefore was in a better position to come up with the solutions that people needed.

The party came up with what they termed SMART plan:

SMART Governance, Nation Building and the Consensus State;

SMART Sustainable, Shared and Inclusive Economy;

SMART Citizen Rights, Interests and Protection;

SMART Social Justice and Delivery; and

SMART Reconstruction and remodelling of the country’s infrastructure. 

It should, however, be noted that although the technical aspects of the manifesto were solid, the communication of the vision proved very difficult.

Zanu PF on the other hand had easier terms, which could be used to rally the people around.

In conclusion, it can be noted that in many cases, the manifestos from all the leading parties in Zimbabwe have not changed much over the last few election cycles.  The messaging has been the same, with the ruling party emphasising the nationalist values and ideals and the opposition centring their messaging on the demise of the economy. It is also interesting to note that we are a few moments before the elections and no party has given their manifesto and therefore as it stands, we cannot imagine with them the future that they envision for the country.

 Mapfumo is a research associate at the African Leadership Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes in his personal capacity. — @spearmunya

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