Zimbabweans cast their ballots Wednesday, August 23rd, to choose their next president. It is the second general election since the ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017. But the stakes are not any lower this time. Zimbabwe’s economy needs urgent relief, and this election is its best chance at getting it.

Twelve presidential candidates are on the ballot, but all eyes are on the between 80-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “the crocodile,” and 45-year-old opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. Mnangagwa narrowly beat Chamisa in a disputed election in 2018.

Chamisa hopes to break the ruling ZANU-PF party’s 43-year hold on power. Zimbabwe has had only two leaders since gaining independence from white minority rule in 1980.

A runoff election will be held October 2nd if no candidate wins a clear majority in the first round. The election will also determine the makeup of the 350-seat parliament and nearly 2,000 local council positions.

In February, a poll by the SABI Strategy Group, a London-based PR firm for the Brenthurst Foundation, went viral. The poll, conducted over the phone with 1,000 Zimbabweans who were sure to vote, had 53% saying they would vote for Chamisa and 40% favouring the incumbent Mnangagwa.

As of report time, results were still in collation. But whoever emerges the winner won’t be resuming into an easy job.

High-stakes, high pressure

Zimbabwe’s next president will have to act fast to rein in inflation and revive the economy. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe worsened in the past few months, as the annual inflation rate soared to 175% in June 2023, more than doubling from the previous year.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has tried several measures to curb hyperinflation this year. But none of these policies, from maintaining tight borrowing costs to freeing up the forex markets and removing taxes and duties on some products, yielded the desired results. As a result, Zimbabweans flooded the stock market to protect their money’s value. So, the next president needs to restore trust in the banking system.

The winner may have to reintroduce the US dollar as the official currency and switch to a fully flexible exchange rate system. The IMF, which started to examine the situation in March last year, is likely to push for major monetary reforms.

Wooing the international community

Zimbabwe’s elections will play a vital role in determining its relationship with the international community. Economic growth has been slow, and the IMF forecasts it to remain unde 3% for the next five years. Yet it needs foreign investments more than ever.

After Mugabe was ousted, FDI inflows surged for a year but then plummeted to their lowest level in more than 10 years. The next five years will see the winner take further steps to lure FDI, especially in the mining sector, which has been lagging behind for a long time due to poor governance.

However, it’s worthy of note that there is no silver bullet or quick fix for Zimbabwe’s problems. Recovery will only happen through a series of crucial decisions over an extended period.

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