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Zimbabwe and Nigeria 2023 elections: The battle against political tradition

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Picture: Nairaland Forum – Peter Obi of the Labour Party is a two-term governor of Anambra State with a different political persuasion and perspective from the traditional culture of using money to induce and influence political outcomes. His commitment to prudent fiscal management of the resources of the state make him a symbol of public hope in a system of government characterised by sleaze and wanton mismanagement of resources, the writer says.

By Omololu Fagbadebo

A periodic election is a hallmark of a democratic state. As the only avenue upon which citizens choose their leaders, every democratic state embraces this political process as a mark of democratic culture. The outcomes of elections are not always predictable. In recent times, it has been a season of shock as opposition candidates record electoral triumphs over the candidates of incumbent political parties.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Kenya’s William Ruto, Lesotho’s, Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, São Tomé and Príncipe’s Patrice Émery Trovoada and Terrance Michael Drew in In Saint Kitts and Nevis are recent success stories of the opposition upstaging the incumbents.

While Tunisia is warming up for December 17 election, Nigeria and Zimbabwe are preparing for their 2023 general elections. Nigeria will go to the polls on February 23, all things being equal, Zimbabwe’s election will hold between July and August. The two countries have a chequered history of electoral politics. Since her independence on April 18, 1980, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) has remained the dominant political party.

The march 2008 general election brought a temporary change as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won 47.9 percent, against Zanu-PF 43.2 percent. The election was characterised by violence and allegations of malpractice. With insufficient votes to form the government, a run-off held on June 27, 2008 was boycotted by the MDC, amid the claims that Tsvangirai won the first round of the election. Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF coasted home with an overwhelming electoral “victory”. Since then, electoral politics in Zimbabwe has remained tense and volatile.

The emergence of Nelson Chamisa as the MDC presidential candidate in the 2018 election, a consequence of the death of Tsvangirai, witnessed another round of tense electoral politics.

Picture: African News Agency (ANA) – MDC leader Nelson Chamisa. Contesting the elections as leader of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), Chamisa and his CCC represent a new hope, especially to the 45 percent neutral electoral voters who are eager for a change in the face of excruciating pains occasioned by the dire economic conditions.
Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters (Files) – A Zimbabwe opposition lawmaker was charged with subversion, after a video surfaced where he purportedly said President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be overthrown before the next election.

Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zanu-PF won with 2.46 million (50.8 percent) while Chamisa’s faction of the MDC garnered 2.15 million (44.3 percent) votes. The heat of the opposition is real. The 2023 election is likely going to generate another round of political heat. Chamisa will be contesting on the platform of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), a new political party he formed in July 2022 after he lost the legal battle over the manner he took over the leadership of the MDC in 2018. Chamisa is a challenger of the old political order that has plunged the country into a series of economic woes.

In Nigeria, the consequences of the electoral politics in the oil-rich West African country are the series of military coups that plunged it into an era of praetorians in power. The carnage that followed the 1965 regional elections led to the January 15 and July 29, 1966, military coups, and the subsequent 30-month civil war that ended in 1970.

A return to a civilian regime on October 1, 1979, lasted only four years when electoral violence that greeted the 1983 general election compelled the military to sack the government, ushering in another era of military dictatorship. Nigeria’s experience with the regimented authoritarian culture of government has since shaped its democratic process.

Contemporary Nigerian politicians are graduates of Nigeria’s military-politico culture!

Nigeria and Zimbabwe share a similar culture. Given its background as a liberation movement, the authoritarian culture has become a defining feature of Zanu-PF leadership, with the allure traits of authoritarian dictatorship. The replacement of Mugabe with Emmerson Mnangagwa was at the behest of the elite circulation syndrome in the Zanu-PF, which is notorious for emasculating the opposition through intimidation and electoral manipulation. Similarly, dominant governing parties in Nigeria are intolerant of the prospect of the opposition’s electoral success, except for the 2015 episode occasioned by the internal bickering of the then-governing party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The 2023 election in the two countries would likely follow a similar pattern in terms of issues and context. Chamisa and his CCC represent a new hope, especially to the 45 percent neutral electoral voters who are eager for a change in the face of excruciating pains occasioned by the dire economic conditions. With 87 percent of citizens living in abject poverty, in a comatose economy, prices of basic goods and services in Zimbabwe “increase at least twice every week”.

In Nigeria, there are three major contenders for the position of president – Bola Tinubu of the governing All Progressive Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the People Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). While Tinubu and Atiku are considered the symbols of the old order, Obi is more popular as a beacon of hope. Atiku is a former vice-president (1999-2007), and has contested for the presidency more than three times and has failed.

Tinubu is a two-term governor of Lagos State and a prominent and influential political godfather in the governing APC.

Obi is also a two-term governor of Anambra State but he is not a prominent political figure in the genre of Tinubu and Atiku. He has a different political persuasion and perspective from the traditional culture of using money to induce and influence political outcomes.

His first four years as the governor were characterised by the bickering between him and the legislature that orchestrated his impeachment because of his commitment to prudent fiscal management of the resources of the state. The judiciary reinstated him when his impeachment was declared unconstitutional.

He is a symbol of public hope in a system of government characterised by sleaze and wanton mismanagement of resources. Tinubu and Atiku do not have his kind of credentials of integrity in the conduct of state affairs as their tenures in office have been characterised by allegations of malfeasance.

Coupled with the harsh realities of the APC government since 2015, a majority of Nigerians, like their Zimbabwean counterparts, are eager for a change that can reduce the pains of the socio-economic chains that have tied them down in the traditional politics of suffering and smiling. A high unemployment rate is generating more poverty in an economy characterised by mismanagement and corruption. In Zimbabwe, a high inflation rate with 96 percent of citizens unemployed is biting harder on the people trapped in a political system that promotes and prioritises the interests of the political leaders.

Nigeria and Zimbabwe are in a season of electoral uncertainty about the future of a long-awaited change. Among the estimated 45 percent of neutral voters in Zimbabwe is a high proportion of disenchanted supporters of the governing Zanu-PF who vote only for fear of intimidation, and the opposition supporters who are desperate for change.

Similarly in Nigeria, of the 10,487,972 new voters, the youth constitutes 58 percent who will join the 74 percent that have participated in the 2019 elections. This is the category of voters who are rooting for the victory of Peter Obi. They are mostly victims of inhumane treatment at the hands of trigger-happy security agencies in the country. They also bear the brunt of the harsh realities of the socio-economic policies and programmes of the government. But will their votes count in 2023? Thus, Chamisa and Obi are symbols of warriors against an entrenched political tradition in Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Will they succeed?

Fagbadebo is a Research Associate at the Durban University of Technology, South Africa.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.