Opposition Politics in Independent Zimbabwe

by Liisa Laakso

Abstract

Zimbabwe has implemented a multi-party system on a universal franchise for more than two decades. This era has witnessed consolidation of power into the hands of the ruling ZANU party and its leader Robert Mugabe, and a gradual evolution of political crises. All general elections have shown support for the opposition among the voters. However, the opposition has changed a lot. Between 1980 and 1987 there was a strong regional party, ZAPU, which transformed from a partner of the ruling party to repressed dissident. The second period after the unity between ZANU and ZAPU witnessed mobilisation in defence of multipartyism and against corruption, and the birth of a populist party ZUM. ZUM’s disintegration was followed by massive electoral apathy in 1995. The third period started with civic organization for constitutional reform in 1997 and led to the emergence of the MDC, a wide coalition of interest groups united by their aim to seize ZANU from power. State responses to opposition politics help to clarify its unstable nature.

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Liisa Laakso is a Docent in Development Studies and lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki. She is co-editor and contributor of Challenges to the Nation-state in Africa (1996), Multi-party Elections in Africa (2002) and Twenty Years of Independence in Zimbabwe, From Liberation to Authoritarianism (2003). Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Modern African Studies, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Studies, Nordic Journal of African Studies, Journal of International Development and International Journal of Development Issues.