I know its perhaps a forced comparison, but I wonder if there aren’t some similarities between the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe, and the Presidential Primaries in the USA. Not, of course, between the policies, candidates or the reliability of the democratic process. I am thinking more terms of concepts like momentum, perception, and the role of bit-players in the race.
Over the past months, watching Obama overtake Clinton in the polls, and watching John McCain come from near bankruptcy to seal the Republican nomination, its clear that the art of PR is crucial to the winning of an election, and I think the MDC need to be similarly savvy in shaping the message in Zimbabwe. What is tortuous just now, is watching the momentum that the opposition party built-up towards the vote of Saturday, slowly disperse as the results are further ‘delayed’. This uncertainty allows people to doubt, and consider where their allegiances lie. The relatively long delay between Primaries seems to have hurt Obama in a similar manner.
Crucial to both examples is the role played by supporting characters in the contest. It seems very much as if the Zimbabwean security chiefs will play King-maker in that country, while the so-called ‘super delegates’ will probably have a similar role in the Democratic Convention in Denver. In both cases, pundits will look to see how these people ‘break’ to one candidate or another. Each faction seeks to persuade the power-brokers that they are the inevitable choice, although in both the African and American examples, this can never be conclusively proved. Each candidate seeks to prompt a stampede of power-brokers in their direction. They need to engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is, of course, profoundly depressing and anti-democratic, since the actual number of votes cast for a given candidate becomes just one of many factors in the decision making process, and not the last word on the matter. However, the one source of optimism in this is that we are reminded how fragile a person’s grip on power can be. Mugabe is more weak now than he has ever been, and that’s purely a perception thing.
In the case of the US Primaries and the Zimbabwe elections, what we need know is a killer blow to definitively swing the power-brokers. In America, I would say that the endorsement of Al Gore, rightly timed, could be crucial. In the Zimbabwean case, it is probably the actions of South African President Thabo Mbeki that could break Mugabe. Do either men have the cojones to make history, or are they waiting to see which way the wind is blowing too?