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"The political outlook has changed drastically".

The European Parliament's Directorate-General for External Policies (Policy Department) published a report on Zimbabwe on 28 May 2013. Titled, "Zimbabwe's 2013 general elections: A genuine wind of change?", the report, written by Nils Tensi, under the supervision of Manuel Manrique Gil, said that both the MDC-T's and MDC's most devoted urban supporters have deserted them as "recent surveys suggest that Zanu-PF by now attracts more public support than the MDC, a turnaround from 2008-09". Here is an abridged version of the report.

As in 2008, Zanu-PF and MDC-T are currently the two dominant parties. Zanu-PF wants to shrug off its burdensome partner after more than four years of compromise, while the MDC wishes finally to assume control over politics. The presidential race is again turning into a duel between the parties' leaders, Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Although the outcome is uncertain, a number of factors are likely to affect the polls:

Zanu-PF has adopted a populist policy, capitalising on anti-Western moods amongst the people. Under the umbrella term "black empowerment", the party promotes land redistribution and economic restructuring in favour of black Zimbabweans. The MDC, in contrast, enjoys backing from many foreign actors in the region and from overseas. Yet the party also faces numerous problems.

First, its reputation has suffered critical blows from a range of personal lapses by its leader--the numerous sexual adventures of Tsvangirai, including the pregnancy of a 23-year-old woman and his denial of paternity; reports of growing corruption and financial mismanagement within the MDC headquarters; and Tsvangirai's refusal to accept criticism of his leadership style.

What is more, the MDCs participation in government for more than four years--although in a weak position--renders it increasingly difficult to argue that it could bring about a radical turn for the better. Disenchanted with the party's inability to trigger decisive change, many young urbanites--previously the MDC's most devoted supporters--have stopped attending the party's once-overcrowded rallies and have sought other arenas to voice their discontent.

Pentecostal churches have seen their popularity skyrocket, and new political alternatives have emerged, including the recently revived Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu). Evidence that MDC youth groups have engaged in violent campaigns has further undermined the party's credibility. The political outlook, as a result, has changed drastically. Recent surveys suggest that Zanu-PF by now attracts more public support than the MDC, a total turnaround from 2008-09.

The MDC may yet regain control by forming a coatition with a third party. Yet Tsvangirai's chances of finding a suitable partner appear meagre, since he broke ties with a smaller MDC faction led by Welshman Ncube, and other promising parties are lacking. More than four years of the Government of National Unity (GNU) have also permitted a level of cross-party communication and cooperation unthinkable in 2008. Combined with the country's slight socio-economic improvements, this may hinder the spread of incendiary rhetoric that contributed to the violent crisis in the last elections.

Flickers of hope for a stronger role of international mediators have been clouded by Zanu-PF's intensifying "anti-colonialist" rhetoric and cat-and-mouse games with donors, which included a March 2013 ban on non-African election observers. A delegation from the European Parliament's Development Committee travelled without disruptions in early May, but relations remain tense.

As guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), Southern African partners exercise a stronger grip on Zimbabwe than those from further afield. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, in particular, has been a key diplomat calling for political reform.

Yet international support for Zanu-PF opponents may also undermine their credibility. Citing international sympathy for the MDC, for example, Mugabe has accused Tsvangirai of adopting foreign-imposed policies and of undermining the popular "black empowerment" agenda. Against this complicated background, two main lessons emerge:

Government turnover does not guarantee democratic change in Zimbabwe. Zanu-PF lacks democratic roots, but the MDC has, for its part, done little to prove its trustworthiness. Rather than asking who is in power, international analysts might want to put a stronger focus on how to actually improve Zimbabwe's political culture and institutions. Second, foreign actors need to be aware of the high degree of suspicion prevalent in Zimbabwe. The international community should act with great care to avoid unintentionally causing a counter-productive backlash.
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Author:Tensi, Nils
Publication:New African
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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