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The New Year will by far be the biggest test that our budding democracy will have to face in the history of the nation.

It will be the pinnacle year for the Tinkhundla project and will also point to the zeal and willingness for emaSwati to agitate for change, either improving the current system or doing completely away with the current dispensation or the status quo shall be retained. Whatever the outcome, commerce needs to stand ready to absorb the shocks that will come with 2023. Today I will analyse the three scenarios and what each of them will mean for business and the economy.

The dialogue

Will 2023 finally deliver the all-important dialogue? If the dialogue materialises, will the recommendations be adhered to? In my view, 2023 will see increased pressure on the sitting government to host an all-inclusive national dialogue in a neutral space, the voices shall become even stronger as we edge closer to the elections. A deadlock is inevitable given the way the situation has been progressing, the sitting government will push for a dialogue as per the confines of the Constitution. The progressive pro-change movement will likely reject this proposal.

This will likely results in increases in the arson attacks and attacks on commerce and influential business, we will likely have more ‘commander’ holidays in the first half of 2023. The effects on commerce and basic sustenance of livelihoods will be dire; the poorest of the poor will suffer even further. Political security risk will rank high for businesses and as such consumers will have to shoulder the increased security costs through the final retail price. The best outcome would be if the sitting government alters the terms of the dialogue to a neutral venue and the outcomes are adopted and implemented, I, however, think this is a very unlikely outcome.

The elections

The elections will yet be another very contentious subject and a true test of the nation’s resilience and ability to amicably adapt to the constantly changing popular demands. The election will be a true test of our ‘democracy’ project, a true test of whether the current system is truly capable of delivering the will of the people. The current emerging trends include the abstain and the participate to change the system from within, also, the hard-line pro-status quo, these are the trends that will shape 2023. The deadlock between the abstain and participate to change the system from within seems will not be broken, the prodemocracy movement will go into the election year on a weaker position since the fragmentation will weaken bargaining power and legitimise the upcoming elections.

This, in my view, tilts the scales in favour of the hard-line pro status quo and most likely the new government will be largely dominated by pro status quo hard-lines. I mean even if the abstain camp ramps efforts to have the nation shun the elections, there will still be a handful of people who vote. As such, we shall have the minority form a government, through a legitimate process. Attacks on property, business and infrastructure will surge creating a perpetual state of fear so it can be commanded that no one should attend the elections. Commerce will have to deal with increased disturbances even in the supply chain. We can only hope that we will have adequate access to the commodities all through the year. In a nutshell, 2023 will be a tricky year for business to traverse, lest we solve the political risk which in itself does not seem likely.

Election day

Election day will be a very peculiar one this year. It will be one of those days that commerce will come to a complete halt, as a precaution. This will likely happen even if the ‘commander’ does not call for it. The fundamental fact remains that we are now a nation engulfed in fear and election is one day that will entrench that fear even deeper. Elections will likely be run with heavy military presence on the streets and the polling stations. Contrary to the popular view within government, heavy military presence in the street does not inspire confidence within commerce, it actually enforces the idea that nothing is actually safe. The presence of the military on home land has never been a good sign for commerce, it is always interpreted as an emerging and very real threat eminent of erupting to a very violent situation. In my view, only a few shops will be open on election day and not many people will go to the polls.

Fiscal policy

The fiscus will be heavily electioneered to pacify the nation to the polls. We are likely to see a budget that is pro-poor. An increase in the elderly grant, increased number of scholarships and increased social assistance grants will likely be prominent in the budget. I foresee an increase in transfer payments to the most vulnerable households. As I conclude, I contend that 2023 is likely to be a very tricky year for commerce and we need to brace for its initial approach.

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