Zimbabwe is grappling with heavy political contestation ahead of the 2023 general elections. Manifestations of mixed feelings among political parties are growing intense daily as supporters, sympathizers, and party leadership try to market their political brands. In the previous months, we witnessed how the by-elections were run and how political parties were marketing their candidates and parties. These By-Elections, without a doubt, have shown that Zimbabwe has two main political parties, the ruling ZANU PF and the CCC. The MDC, which has existed since 1999, has lost momentum under Douglas Mwonzora. The CCC has become the new political giant, and Mwonzora, who had recalled several legislators and councilors, failed to return many to parliament in the by-elections. The significance of the just-ended by-elections is evident in how the two main parties, ZANU-PF, and Citizens Coalition for Change, have invested enormous human and financial resources in political marketing. Both parties hold party rallies that have attracted huge crowds and ignited political excitement in the country. This provides insight and speculation that the 2023 national elections will be a tight political contest between the two main parties. And the CCC posed an extreme threat to ZANU-PF´s continued stay in power.
Political marketing in contemporary political contestation refers to the process by which political candidates and ideas are directed at the voters to satisfy their political needs and thus gain their support for the candidate and ideas in question. A cursory comparison between marketing goods and services and political candidates would readily point to at least one common promotion concept. In the Zimbabwean political conundrum, political parties, particularly the candidates, extensively use media to inform, remind, and change the attitudes and behavior of prospected voters. Political marketing is a set of activities, processes, or political institutions used by political organizations, candidates, and individuals to create, communicate, deliver, and exchange promises of value with voter consumers, political party stakeholders, and society at large. That is to say, the marketing aim of a political party or candidate is to communicate, deliver, and exchange offerings policies for votes.
Politicians have always used different marketing techniques to gather the support of the citizens in Zimbabwe. From Roman Emperors holding gladiator fights to European monarchs building city improvements, leaders seeking to gain the people's favor is not a new concept. But because America was established as a democracy, the political game changed, and it has influenced the democratic development of different states, and now voters could support candidates they liked.In a broader concept, l perceives political marketing as being not just about political advertising, party political broadcasts, and electoral speeches but covering the whole area of party positioning in the electoral market. It also includes the setting of strategies and tools to trace and study public opinion before and during an election campaign, to develop campaign communications, and to assess their impact. The ruling ZANU PF has proven beyond reasonable doubt that it has mastered the art of political marketing. Recently, it has engaged social media influencers, including the most popular Prophet Passion Java, Prophet Makandiwa, and many influencers in the entertainment industry. The opposition CCC has not yet proven to have the capacity to take the space of political marketing. Still, it has a few party sympathizers like Hopewell Chinóno, a renowned journalist, and few people within the structureless party.
Political marketing is concerned with communicating with party members, media, and prospective sources of funding, as well as the electorate. It can also be viewed as “the party or candidate’s use of opinion research and environmental analysis to produce and promote a competitive offering which will help realize organizational aims and satisfy groups of electors in exchange for their vote. In doing so, a transaction takes place when voters cast their votes. In return for their votes, the party/candidate offers better government and policies after the election. Understanding political marketing is tricky in Zimbabwe toward the 2023 general election. Political marketing can help assess the role of party images in electoral choices. Political science has overlooked this aspect, which is usually preoccupied with policies and ideologies. By emphasizing conflicting interests, political science manages political marketing’s concern with parties’ and voters shared and mutual interests.
Political marketing can improve the quantity and quality of information flow from the electorate to parties and candidates, thus making them more sensitive and responsive to voters’ needs. At the same time, it improves communication channels from politicians to the electorate and even more to every specific segment of voters. In a real sense, political marketing’ provides a rational way for parties or candidates to behave in conditions of competitive mass democracy. This development signals that political marketing has moved to the era of strategic marketing. Thus, it is not just a short-term tactical device mainly for gathering information in the run-up to elections but a longer-term permanent process that aims to ensure continued governance.
There has been a fierce quarrel among advertisement, field, tribe, or religious groups in Zimbabwe since the 1980s; hence,it is impossible to attain harmony on political principles. Each political party prefers principles to keep benefits and to limit or decrease other party benefits. My opinion is that there is no stable opinion on transmitting power in Zimbabwe on democratic principles. The opposition, with no control, apply violence when they realize that benefits are not attained via social discipline. In political marketing, the political parties play the role of producers in the economy. Intellectually, there is no doubt that there is no relationship between the growth of political parties and forming political systems based on party competition with civilian society. However, there are no initial principles and preconditions for consolidating the political parties in Zimbabwe.
There is a different condition in developing countries, particularly in Zimbabwe. In other words, the government is active in the lack of a market. The unsound cooperation between economic and political power results in obtaining political positions. All facilities are in the hands of the government, and votes can be bought and sold. Votes are attained through money or job suggestions. The people of these countries know election as a formal affair with no effect on life. It is legal to sell votes in developing countries as it`s a useless matter. Although selling votes is accomplished in secret, sellers do a favor to buyers. Therefore, democracy is considered a ceremonial matter in Zimbabwe which these countries can`t afford.
The ZANU PF 2018 election Manifesto and campaigning message are examples of the impact of political marketing. In its manifesto, ZANU PF notes that it is a New Dispensation, and the focus and preoccupation of the new administration was opening the country for business, fighting corruption, creating jobs, modernizing the public sector, and promoting investment, economic empowerment re-aligning to an investor-friendly trajectory leading to economic growth and employment creation. The Manifesto convinced several people, from white farmers who disposed of land in 2000 to different investors. However, the Mnangagwa Administration has failed to deliver its electoral promises.
In developing countries like Zimbabwe, it is expected but not tolerated that there is a lack of independence and dependency of institutes and official and economic departments on each other. Clientelism and neopatrimunial patterns decrease the significance of function based on the program and support votes in a way supporters desire. Officiating is essential in developing countries. Traditional face-to-face methods are maintained between candidates, and loyalty to family is of more significance in comparison to allegiance to the government. Clientelism got three properties: "The connection between supporter and follower between two groups with no equality in situation, power, and wealth. Second, the formation and continuation of this relationship depend on mutual deals. Third, the expansion and survival of this system depend on face-to-face communication between supporters and followers. Clientelism systems act on two levels. At the lowest level, followers are gathered in countries and slums through a significant connection between individuals and influential supporters supporting the benefits of followers and getting respect. At a higher level, the follower is among the national elite. Here, the supporter communicates with the elite to show loyalty toward the system and services the elite in marches and elections.
Therefore, it is critical for the general public to understand the impact of political marketing as the country prepares for the 2023 elections in the Zimbabwean political environment. The use of political marketing influences the health of democracy, bringing benefits to the democratic system. Firstly, political marketing increases the number of information sources and the amount of information available to voters. Secondly, it helps in building the relationship between candidates and constituents. This is because political marketing uses an exchange model among politicians and the public, similar to producers and consumers. Thirdly, the practice of this political communication technique is definitely voter oriented, and therefore the public has many choices and enough information from which to select.
Despite these positive impacts, the use of political marketing also has drawbacks. Firstly, political marketing drives tend to be commercialized, reducing political values and political substantives. Secondly, as the media and consultants become more important, they will replace the parties' role in the future. Thirdly, the use of money politics obviously impactspolitical marketing. This is because the high level of competition and democracy also means a free market. Fourthly, political marketing, which usually uses advertising to promote the candidate, tends to manipulate the public and therefore is unsuitable for democracy. Therefore, the general public must be aware of the role that political marketing can play in influencing voter decisions in the coming national elections. The civic society, pressure groups, interest groups, labor unions, and student unions are obligated to voter education and awareness to ensure voters are not manipulated.