At the time of writing, there are at least two major MDC parties, with several splinter parties that were once part of the MDC or ZANU-PF.
It would take a remarkable swing to the MDC, now run by Nelson Chamisa, to make ZANU-PF lose its nerve and resort to irregularities and the massive powers of incumbency.
The party’s contingency tactics are all-too familiar: sudden splurges of public spending in electorally volatile areas, police forces being mysteriously slow to permit opposition rallies, electoral espionage into the plans and strategies of the opposition parties – all this even before any intervention in the vote-tallying itself.
This sort of thing is unedifying, to be sure – but it needs to be kept in perspective.
These “masquerade democracies” aren’t all that outlandish by global standards. At least they have opposition parties – which is more than can be said for China, among others.
While many of sub-Saharan Africa’s opposition leaders face intimidation, their travails generally pale in comparison to the deadly government retribution meted out in Russia. And then there are the various Western powers, especially the UK and the US, where two long-established parties simply trade power back and forth while their governing institutions remain largely unchanged.
Even where real change is not forthcoming, elections at least allow for some sort of political debate and airing of political demands. Even if the incumbent government knows it’s going to win, it has to make a show of listening to the public.
Of course, as in Uganda, an uneasy government can imprison or prosecute opposition leaders to stop them leading a national campaign – but most governments’ tactics are now more sophisticated and subtle than that.
Yes, the results are less than ideal, to put it mildly. But better than out-and-out dictatorship? The answer can only be yes.
By Stephen Chan for the Conversation