On 23 May 2022, the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria published an article arguing that there are very slim chances that Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections will be competitive because the electoral playing field remains deeply uneven and stacked in favour of the ruling party.
This view echoed an earlier article by Professor Brian Raftopoulos which argued that military-style authoritarian tactics continue to play a central role in aiding ZANU-PF to gain political advantage over the opposition.
Though salient, these arguments are not new. Whenever a presidential election is coming up, this subject dominates the headlines of almost every newspaper all over the internet. Too much too often, these narratives hardly invoke cognitive explanations about the political behaviour of the electorate, especially that of young people between the ages of 18 and 35, and how that plays a critical role in determining the competitiveness or outcome of an election.
One such explanation is that young people are stubbornly aloof when it comes to elections. Many of them do not register to vote. Even if they do, they do not show up on polling day. They are the most affected by democratic processes, the ones struggling in record numbers to find work and educational opportunities, but they appear to be the least interested in participating in elections.
Their vote is decisively critical because Zimbabwe is a youthful country with approximately 70% of its 15.1 million people under the age of 35. Obviously, this explanation is not new either, but it is considered feasible and worth overstating because voter turnout is more possible to stir than fundamental electoral and security sector reforms.
As Professor Jonathan Moyo once said, “ZANU-PF will never reform itself out of power”. The ruling party has no intention whatsoever of creating an environment that will ensure too much transparency and accountability into the election and it will do anything and everything to prevent that.
Thus, it is key for opposition parties to invest more into political activities which they can leverage or influence more to gain political power. Rallying as many people as possible to register to vote and to show up on polling day is critical.
The opening of new divides is typically fuelled by the political mobilisation of previously disengaged groups, and this is what we appear to have observed with the elections in Zambia in August 2021. Political cleavages can be highly divisive when they attract too much public attention, involvement, and engagement.
However, evidence from past elections indicates that we are a million miles away from gaining this political mileage.
Continued next page