Zimbabwe's 2013 General Elections: A Genuine Wind of Change?

28-05-2013

Hopes are high that elections in 2013 will usher in significant political changes in Zimbabwe. Uncertainty and political rivalry necessitate sensitivity from all actors. Since the 2008/2009 crisis, Zimbabwe has been ruled by a coalition government, leading to first signs of socio-economic progress. This year's elections are a source of both optimism and worry. ZANU-PF and the MDC continue to dominate the electoral landscape. ZANU-PF has adopted anti-western rhetoric focusing on 'black empowerment'. Yet the party suffers from corruption, public disappointment and Mugabe's advanced age. The MDC presents itself as a young, energetic alternative to ZANU-PF. Yet its reputation has been weakened by Tsvangirai's behaviour, internal corruption and the inability to improve politics under the GNU. Public opinion has shifted, now slightly favouring ZANU-PF over the MDC. The recent constitutional referendum offers ground for hope, but does not guarantee free and fair elections. Still, the new constitution introduces some important checks and balances. Cooperation under the GNU promises an improved political dialogue. Difficulties remain, including uncertainty about the date, financing and the context of the elections. International observers have watched developments, but hold little leverage. African actors enjoy greater — though still limited — negotiating power with Harare. Contrary to many expectations, a government change may have only a slim impact on democratic quality. Foreign actors need to act very carefully to avoid unintended outcomes.

Hopes are high that elections in 2013 will usher in significant political changes in Zimbabwe. Uncertainty and political rivalry necessitate sensitivity from all actors. Since the 2008/2009 crisis, Zimbabwe has been ruled by a coalition government, leading to first signs of socio-economic progress. This year's elections are a source of both optimism and worry. ZANU-PF and the MDC continue to dominate the electoral landscape. ZANU-PF has adopted anti-western rhetoric focusing on 'black empowerment'. Yet the party suffers from corruption, public disappointment and Mugabe's advanced age. The MDC presents itself as a young, energetic alternative to ZANU-PF. Yet its reputation has been weakened by Tsvangirai's behaviour, internal corruption and the inability to improve politics under the GNU. Public opinion has shifted, now slightly favouring ZANU-PF over the MDC. The recent constitutional referendum offers ground for hope, but does not guarantee free and fair elections. Still, the new constitution introduces some important checks and balances. Cooperation under the GNU promises an improved political dialogue. Difficulties remain, including uncertainty about the date, financing and the context of the elections. International observers have watched developments, but hold little leverage. African actors enjoy greater — though still limited — negotiating power with Harare. Contrary to many expectations, a government change may have only a slim impact on democratic quality. Foreign actors need to act very carefully to avoid unintended outcomes.