Issues, not rhetoric, will be vote winner

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Harare (New Ziana) – Like most other young prospective first time voters, Lloyd Chiminya is yet to decide which presidential candidate to vote for in next year’s general elections.

But the choice for him, and most probably others like him, has been narrowed to the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa.

The election season is gathering pace, first with this month’s parliamentary and local government by-elections in over 100 jurisdictions nationwide, and then the crucial general elections expected mid next year.

Chiminya and other first time voters are expected to play an important, if not determinant, role in both elections.

According to estimates, there are over one million potential first time voters – most of them young – that could take part in the upcoming two elections, especially next year’s.

But two crucial factors will determine the potential decisiveness of the first time young voters, and which side they will tilt to in these elections.

The first, analysts note, is whether or not they register en masse to be able to vote, and second the content of political party messaging and its relationship to everyday reality.

Typifying his peers across the country, Chiminya has not registered yet to vote, despite availability of registration centres of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) close-by home, and time running out to do so.

“I will, there is still time,” he says, a common refrain among his peers.

ZEC is currently running phased voter registration exercises countrywide in preparation for next year’s polls, but the public’s response, particularly from Chiminya and peers, is overwhelmingly disappointing.

Only 50 000 new voters were registered the whole of last month across the country, leaving a huge question mark about the electoral body’s ability to cover its target of enrolling one million new voters.

At last month’s rate of new voter registration, it is clearly impossible for ZEC to achieve its target, a failure analysts say will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the forthcoming elections.

In particular, the electoral body had targeted Chiminya and peers, but these are proving the most elusive.

“Of particular interest to us are the youths – the one that have turned 18 and have not had a chance to register, since the number has been growing since the last election. Even the adults that have not registered should take the opportunity and register because our target is to register one million new voters,” ZEC said when it launched the registration exercise.

But inspite of not being registered as a voter yet, Chiminya is not dissuaded from paying attention to election campaign messages from different parties and candidates, and so are many among his peers.

Last week, the political campaigning came closer home for Chiminya when both President Mnangagwa and Chamisa were in home town Kwekwe, to throw in word for their party candidates running in the March 26 by-elections.

In search of a choice, he attended both rallies – on Saturday for President Mnangagwa, and Sunday for Chamisa.

His verdict: “It was interesting, informative and relational on one side, and idealism, on the other, making the choice easy for me.”

It is a pregnant verdict that most likely resonates across the country, and will decide the outcome of the polls more than anything else, according to analysts.

Unpacked, his verdict is that while candidate Mnangagwa spoke at the rally about tangibles such as the planned revival of Ziscosteel, reconstruction of roads and ongoing investment in important infrastructure like dams – all which people can relate to – his opponent, Chamisa, on the other hand, mainly dished out political abstracts such as ability to turn-around the economy within weeks of assuming office.

It is not only at the Kwekwe rally that the young opposition leader spoke in abstracts terms.

At a similar rally In Harare a week earlier, he spoke of whites and Chinese with suitcases stuffed with billions of dollars on stand-by to flock into the country in droves once a Chamisa administration was in power.

After two decades of punishing economic instability, largely caused by Western sanctions, analysts believe the electorate is now looking more at realism in the content of political messaging in elections, rather than rhetoric and the messenger as was widely the case in the First Republic.

In that era, they note, the CCC and its various earlier mutations, benefited from the hopelessness the electorate felt when it came to the ruling party’s lack of intention, let alone ability, to address the country’s deep-seated economic challenges, Western sanctions notwithstanding.

Evidently not anymore as the Second Republic, though still operating within the constraints of Western sanctions, has shown and demonstrated vision and ability to turn-around the economy in the short period it has been in power.

The country notched the highest economic growth rate in Africa last year – at over seven percent – sweetly Covid-19 challenges notwithstanding, and expects similar growth this year if new hurdles posed by the Russia-Ukraine war, such as rising oil prices, do not prolong.

It is not only the electorate buying into the vision and promises of the Second Republic, but even once stridently skeptical foreign investors, including from the Western world.

Last year, the country approved investment projects worth US$1.8 billion, the majority sponsored by foreign investors from all over the globe.

It is this – which the electorate can easily relate to physically – analysts note, that will decisively sway the vote in next year’s elections, even among youths, and ultimately determine the outcome.

And Chiminya, collaborating the analysis, now has made his choice after attending the two Kwekwe rallies.

Yet the CCC, 20 years on, and inspite of leadership and policy changes in the ruling party, still clings on to policy ambiguities and mere personality appeal, as a campaign strategy.

“It will not work this time. While you did not need appealing policies to formidably oppose (late former President Robert) Mugabe, you do now, and this is the challenge Chamisa and others face,” noted one analyst.

And fatefully more worrying, the youth vote, which the opposition had been probably banking on, is also shakily not promising, if ZEC’s voter registration figures are anything to go by.
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