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Who is Nelson Chamisa and can he win Zimbabwe's election?

HARARE (Reuters) -Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, is trying to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the governing ZANU-PF party in presidential and parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

Although many voters say they are hungry for change from relentless economic chaos, analysts warn the odds are heavily skewed against Chamisa, who narrowly lost to Mnangagwa in a disputed election in 2018.

ZANU-PF has been in power for more than four decades, and Chamisa's campaign has faced hurdles, with the police repeatedly stopping opposition rallies.

WHAT IS CHAMISA'S BACKGROUND?

Chamisa transitioned from being a student leader who led anti-government protests over college fees to national politics in 1999, when the late Morgan Tsvangirai spearheaded the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to mount the most serious challenge to ZANU-PF's stranglehold on power.

A lawyer and pastor by training, Chamisa became Zimbabwe's youngest ever presidential candidate in 2018 when he lost to Mnangagwa.

Chamisa served as a government minister responsible for information and communication technology between 2009 and 2013, after longtime strongman Robert Mugabe agreed to share power with the opposition following a 2008 election.

WHAT HAS HE ACHIEVED IN POLITICS?

Chamisa is credited with reviving the opposition after a major split in the camp in 2018, following Tsvangirai's death, weakened it.

After losing a bruising legal battle to a rival MDC faction, Chamisa changed the name of his camp to the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). The CCC immediately established itself as the main challenger to ZANU-PF after winning the most seats in parliamentary by-elections held in March 2022.

WHAT HAS HE PROMISED IF HE WINS?

He has pledged to grow the economy, fight corruption and end his country's international isolation. A CCC government would impose fiscal discipline, restore respect for human and property rights and attract investment, Chamisa says.

WHAT DO HIS DETRACTORS SAY?

Critics say Chamisa has a penchant for outlandish election promises, including grand infrastructure projects, but is short on details of how he would fund them.

WHAT ARE HIS CHANCES OF WINNING?

Political analysts say Zimbabwe's dire economic conditions - including runaway inflation, currency shortages and sky-high unemployment - could galvanise voters against the ruling party.

But as in previous elections, they say ZANU-PF has been using its control over state institutions to ensure it stays in power.

"The electoral playing field is heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party," said Africa Risk Consulting.

The Economist Intelligence Unit predicted Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF would win by a narrower margin and not by fair means, raising the risk of disputes over the results and public protests.

(Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Bernadette Baum)