Lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa is using oratory skills honed in the courtroom and pulpit to plot an election victory in Zimbabwe, where he has galvanized his opposition party with folksy speeches and promises of economic revival.
At 40 he is Zimbabwe’s youngest ever presidential candidate. His energy has drawn enthusiastic crowds in the rural heartland, the stronghold of the entrenched ruling party that Chamisa is trying to unseat in Monday’s poll.
The election is expected to be close. To win, Chamisa must loosen the grip of 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF on the rural electorate, 60 percent of the 5.7 million voters.
He also has to overcome rivalries from his own political side. He claimed the leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after its founder Morgan Tsvangirai died from cancer in February.
He has helped party morale after a crushing defeat in 2013 but internal rivals bitterly disputed his leadership bid and set up a breakaway faction that is also contesting the July 30 election. That could cost Chamisa some votes.
His style sharply contrasts to the dour demeanour of his older opponent Mnangagwa, who rose to power after a November army coup forced the resignation of Robert Mugabe who had spent nearly four decades in power.
Chamisa, a married father of one, says voters are fed up with Mnangagwa’s independence generation who have run down Zimbabwe and should make way for young leaders like him.
“We need opportunity for business people, for citizens, opportunity for young people. That is why our jobs plan is a fantastic plan to respond to the issues that are affecting people,” Chamisa said in a Reuters interview in late June.
“The momentum is huge, the mood is fantastic.”
Chamisa and Mnangagwa, who has the edge in opinion polls, are both promising to rebuild an economy squeezed by the worst cash shortages since hyperinflation forced Mugabe to dump Zimbabwe’s currency in 2009 for the U.S. dollar.
Thousands of youths graduate from university every year to join the ranks of unemployed. Many eke a living hawking wares and air time on the streets. The lucky ones join the government or army, police and the intelligence services.
Chamisa says he will rebuild roads and rail by giving concessions to private companies. He plans to cut taxes, clean-up the government payroll, which gobbles more than 90 percent of the national budget and review investment agreements.
But missing from his plans is how Zimbabwe will implement tough economic reforms that investors and lenders such as the IMF say are needed if they are to resume funding after an absence of over two decades.
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