Who Will Win 2018 Elections? Strengths and Weaknesses of Key Contenders

President Mnangagwa and main opposition leader Mr Nelson Chamisa to headline 2023 elections

By Dumisani O. Nkomo

The harmonised elections are barely a month away and aspirants of all persuasions are out in full force hugging babies, giving to the needy, launching openings of bins and promising everything to everyone as they desperately seek to sway public opinion and hopefully the popular vote in their way.


It is becoming increasingly clear that the presidential race is becoming a two-way race in strong field of presidential candidates. It would be most desirable if no party had a two thirds majority in parliament and for the electorate to choose their preferred candidates on merit.

However, election fever characterised by a propensity for electoral infatuation by both the aspiring candidates and the perspiring electorate may see people throwing reason out of the window and voting for parties which are most likely to win rather than candidates who can deliver.

If this scenario obtains, the race will then become a two-man horse race between President Emmerson Mnangwagwa and Advocate Nelson Chamisa. In this article I will explore the chances that these two candidates have and the external factors and other variables which will determine their chances in the presidential race. I will explore the chances of other aspirants such as Dr Thokozani Khuphe, Dr Mujuru, Dr Nkosana Moyo and others in subsequent instalments.

Recent opinion polls have suggested that the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangwagwa is likely to win the elections. However, there has been contesting views by numerous political analysists who have highlighted that there is a large number of people who have not indicated their preferred choice ahead of the 2018 Harmonised Elections.

I will briefly look into few factors that will work in favour of and against both candidates.

Emmerson Mnangagwa -Key Strengths and Advantages

  1. Incumbency

The cardinal advantage which Emmerson Mnangagwa has in this presidential race is that of the advantages of incumbency. As the current president of Zimbabwe ED Mnangagwa has to his personal advantage as a presidential candidate is access to information, resources and personnel which no other candidate has. The sitting president has a head start because he has control [albeit debatably] of the key organs of the state such as the army and the civil service and to an extent the electoral process which on paper is run by an independent commission [ Z.E.C ] .The incumbent’s control of the entire security apparatus is questionable though as the police and the intelligence apparatus is not fully under his control but broadly and theoretically speaking they lie within the ambit of his influence or at least the purvey of the ruling party which of course should not be the case but in actual case has been the case under former president Robert Mugabe .

  1. Resources

It can further be denoted that Emmerson Mnangagwa as an incumbent has admittance to state machinery and financial support from countries such as China as well as funds form the Political Parties, just to name a few. The incumbent in addition to the already existing resources has also benefited from financial provisions that have been made under the auspices of the Finance Act, 2018 (No.1 of 2018) under which they and the leading opposition parties in parliament received a budget vote to jump-start the two political parties’ campaigns ahead of the 2018 Harmonised elections. Linked to this it can further be construed that ZANU PF and Mnangwagwa will also benefit from over 210 vehicles allocated to each parliamentary candidate in addition to the hundreds of other vehicles they have secured, it is also likely that state resources will be used or abused to aid Mnangwagwa ’s presidential bid.

  1. Control of Military

This of course is debatable especially after the recent bombing incident which transpired at White City Stadium in Bulawayo as it is not abundantly clear whether the president has full control of the security apparatus of the country in the manner Robert Mugabe did up to the 2013 elections. However, if we are to assume that he controls the military it then becomes very problematic and intuitively cumbersome for the opposition to dislodge him because of the militarisation of many civilian institutions including the civil service. In 2008 the military played a major role in ZANU PF retaining power by foul or fair means.

  1. Control of State Media

The public media especially the Z.B C has continued to be an extension of the ruling party even with this being evinced by the constant coverage of the ruling party activities ahead of the 2018 Harmonised elections. However, in the last month or so efforts have been to decoratively open space.

  1. Opening of Space

The opening of space for political parties and civil society in terms of freedom of association has been quite clear and some may feel that indeed this is a new era and not a “new error “.

Nelson Chamisa- Strengths and Competitive Advantages

  1. Charisma

Unlike his opponent Nelson Chamisa possesses a natural charism which is key for any election. This is an attribute which Robert Mugabe had and which Mnangwagwa does not have. He is able to relate to various audiences and effectively articulate issues at rallies

  1. Generational Vote

Nelson Chamisa as a young person has the potential to appeal to the youth registrants as the majority of the registered voters are under the age of forty. Flipping on the other side of the coin this gain is also debatable because people do not vote in straight lines and there is a likelihood that some professionals may buy into Mnangagwa business rhetoric. However, the majority of Zimbabweans who will be voting were born after independence and will be keen to see a new leader with a new mandate taking over seeing that Mnangagwa has been in cabinet since 1980 and cannot absolve himself from failures of the Mugabe regime.

  1. Protest Vote

Chamisa will also benefit from the fact that there has not been any significant economic growth and improvement in service delivery. Besides the Zimbabwe is ready for business rhetoric there is no actual tangible change that can attest to a new era. Admittedly space has opened up and roadblocks have disappeared but economically the cash crisis persists and long bank queues are the order of the day. Economic growth takes time as we know but the people will judge a leader by what he has promised and by the economic deliverables they see. To this extent Chamisa may gain from the protest vote arising from economic conditions


Further enunciated below are the weaknesses and the possible threats that can work against the two prominent presidential candidates ahead of the 2018 Harmonised elections:

Presidential Candidate – Emmerson Mnangagwa

  1. The incumbent paralleled to his opponent lacks charisma
  2. Failed attempts to curb corruption
  3. A Botched First Hundred-day plan
  4. Internal threat of the former G40 elements many of whom won in ZANU PF this may result in the “bhora musango “phenomenon with ZANU PF elements voting for ZANU PF Members of parliament and councillors whilst voting for an opposition candidate for presidential elections.
  5. Emergence of the National Patriotic Front which may split the ZANU PF vote especially the Mashonaland Provinces.
  6. Fissures resulting from the conduct of primary elections may result in the increase of ZANUP.F supporters and disgruntled candidates mobilizing against official party candidates and the official party candidate
  7. Lack of control of entire security apparatus especially the police and intelligence services.
  8. The past will continue to haunt Mnangwagwa as his role in the Matabeleland Massacres will continue to haunt him and so will his alleged involvement in the 2008 election violence.


Presidential Candidate – Nelson Chamisa

1.Internal fissures as a result of weak internal democracy and results of primary elections. This may result in some party supporters voting for M.D.C T led by Khuphe, Nkosana Moyo and Dr Mujuru.

2.Perceptions of immaturity.

3.High sounding promises which the electorate may feel are unattainable.

4.Lack of consistent messaging – Whilst E.D Zimbabwe’s open for business mantra is clear and consistent Chamisa on the other hand has not been very consistent in articulating what he stands for and appears to change his messaging depending on where he is or who he is addressing. This as a result can be a strength but can be construed as a weakness.

5.Lack of resources – Unlike previous elections there are little resources for opposition parties and Chamisa party in particular.

6.A clear threat to Chamisa’s chances will be the military’s willingness to roll over and allow an opposition candidate to win after having conducted military takeover or more precisely a coup. The establishment is unlikely to let this happen.

7.Confusion arising from the party name as many especially in rural areas may not know the difference between the M.D C Alliance and the M.D.C – T.



In the final analysis it will be a very closely contested battle and the above factors will play a key role in determining who wins the elections. As to who will win I leave it to the reader based on the above factors and other variables.


Dumisani Nkomo is the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust. He is also the vice chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. He writes here in his personal capacity and views shared here are not a reflection of the views of any of the above organizations .He can be contacted on dumisani [email protected] .

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende