HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabweans are voting for a president and lawmakers in a general election taking place against the backdrop of widespread economic hardship. The country is in the grip of high unemployment, surging inflation and a persistent currency crisis.
President Emerson Mnangagwa is squaring off against Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa and eight others in Wednesday’s presidential ballot. Mnangagwa and Chamisa, the two leading candidates, have vowed to revive the country’s economy.
A Gallup survey has highlighted the waning confidence of Zimbabwe’s citizens in employment and economic prospects. About 62% of Zimbabweans surveyed said they “feel their standard of living is getting worse” and 72% said the current period “is a bad time to find a job.”
“For many Zimbabweans, the outlook appears increasingly gloomy,” said Gallup in its survey report titled Economy Remains Top Concern Ahead of Zimbabwe Election which was released on Tuesday.
Mnangagwa has tried to contain inflation — calculated this week by the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency, Zimstat, to be running at 77% in August — by limiting the stock of money supply in circulation. However, that approach has affected citizens’ purchasing power.
The tactic has also pushed up usage of US dollars, which are legal tender. Foreign currency notes now account for 80% of bank deposits, the central bank said this month.
Many Zimbabweans like Daniel Nkomah, an informal trader in Harare, feel economic hardships have worsened under Mnangagwa. “Life in Zimbabwe has become unbearable because of runaway prices of basic foodstuffs,” he said, adding that employment opportunities are pushing more people into the informal sector and many live on less than a dollar each day.
Only 4% of those surveyed said they were living comfortably on their current income, compared with about 44% who reported “finding it very difficult” to live on their income.
Many of Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties are tied to its currency volatility, say analysts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in an email to Semafor Africa, noted that a significant gap between the official and parallel market rates persists, despite attempts to liberalize the exchange rate by Mnangagwa’s administration.
A “swift resolve” by Harare to achieve “greater official exchange rate flexibility” would “contribute to containing money growth” which drives inflation, the IMF said.
Despite allegations of electoral system manipulation by the CCC ahead of Wednesday’s vote, about 53% of Zimbabweans surveyed by Gallup expressed confidence in the electoral process