Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ten Point Guide to Reading Zimbabwean Political Party Manifestos in 2013.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The two main political parties in Zimbabwe have launched their manifestos for the harmonized elections scheduled for July 31 2013. Other parties will most certainly do the same, though with less pomp and ceremony. Given that there will be a lot of insistence on which manifesto is better, please see below some brief pointers as to some criteria on how to read these much vaunted documents.  

1. Incumbency: All of our major parties have the fault/strength of having served in the outgoing inclusive government. One of them for more years than others but all the same, their manifestos cannot be read as though they are all completely new to government. In essence the manifestos must be read on the basis of all incumbent parties' performance in the outgoing government, acknowledgements (if any) of their mistakes and a realistic assessment of what they claim to have been their successes.

2.       A complete/holistic reading: Party manifestos, much like a constitution cannot make good sense in isolated parts. They must be sequential and each part must reflect the stated ideological framework that the party in question espouses. Nitpicking sections that affect ones social or class grouping may provide a feel good moment but either way the manifesto will be meaningless without its wholesome parts.

3.       Realistic vs Ridiculous Propositions: In election periods most parties vying for office make the most ridiculous of proposals. Assess them against the political and economic realities that you know to be faced by the country and its citizens. As the perennial election joke goes, some parties may promise to build bridges where there are no rivers.

4.       Devil in the detail: Party manifestos tend to gloss over the details of what they identify as the problem or how they quantify the solution (eg unemployment figures and projected solution timeframes). If you have time, cross check the figures and qualitative assertions in the manifestos. If you don’t have time, take it all with a tablespoon of salt.

5.       Cross-check local government proposals: Most parties talk big in their manifestos and this normally means they concentrate on central or national power. They tend to skim over local government. A party’s democratic ethos is generally shown by how seriously it takes lower levels of government that have an immediate impact on people’s lives (water, health, education, transport et al). If a manifesto does not talk to these issues with relative seriousness, think about it.

6.       Cross check proposed policy on media and freedom of expression: Most party manifestos will talk about their commitment to the rule of law, human rights and the separation of powers. They will however be muted on committing to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom. Their approach tends to want to retain control of the media and leave what they say about the latter as ambiguous as possible. The more ambiguous the proposals the more likely they intend to curtail freedom of expression.

7.       Watch out for tokenism and mimicry: Party manifestos tend to be characterised by a lot of tokenism and 'copying and pasting'. Paying lip service to much quoted phrases without substantiating them on paper. E.g. The ‘market re-capitalization’,  ‘public-private partnerships’, ‘foreign direct investment’ ‘job creation’ ‘gender equality’  ‘youth empowerment’.  These are normally written out of context and as though they have been copied out of a World Bank handbook.

8.       Mark out immediate deliverables: Each party tends to promise  quick deliverables upon assuming power. Mark these out and hold them to account on their first day in office. Even if you did not vote for them.

9.       Be time conscious: Whichever party’s manifesto best impresses you, be mindful of the fact that it will potentially be in charge of Zimbabwe for the next five years. So if you have doubts, think about the impact of those doubts on the country. The elections are both about 31 July 2013 and also about 31 July 2018.

10.   Take note of all that was omitted: It is also not always whats in the manifesto that is important. What might be missing/omitted will perhaps be the most significant indicator of the party’s intentions.
Good luck in reading the manifestos (if you have time)
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)