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date: 06 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Most African states today are characterized as hybrid regimes that occupy a ‘grey zone’ between liberal democracy and naked authoritarianism. Whilst political scientists often argue that these regimes produce a competitive electoral authoritarianism, their arguments generalize across a diverse range of regimes and overlook local logics of electoral subversion. This article therefore provides a detailed empirical investigation through a case study of the 2013 and 2018 general elections in Zimbabwe. Since the end of British colonial rule in 1980, Zimbabwe has kept its constitutional obligation to hold regular elections. However, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has used multiple strategies to manipulate elections, remaining in power despite the creation of a popular opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in 1999. Scholarly attempts to explain this hegemony through the competitive advantages of the incumbent and ‘smart rigging’ fail to address adequately local patterns of electoral manipulation and their delegitimizing effects. Central to ZANU-PF’s strategy is the conflation of the state and the ruling party from the centre down to the village level, with coercion as the perennial autocratic feature. However, in the June 2008 elections, the use of naked coercion undermined ZANU-PF’s power and legitimacy. Subsequently, in the 2013 and 2018 general elections, ZANU-PF relied upon covert manipulation, but never wholly gave up coercion because the opposition remained competitive, and political legitimacy contested. A view from marginal rural areas, which have been neglected in academic studies, provides invaluable insight into the interplay of electoral strategies and helps to illuminate how a delegitimized ruling party clings to power.

Keywords: competitive electoral authoritarianism, democracy, elections, electoral manipulation, electoral violence, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Zimbabwe

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