Having attended and observed the presidential election campaigns between the main political protagonists, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and taking into account the political environment and other electoral administrative factors, my interpretation of the July 31 poll is pointing towards a Tsvangirai victory.
OPINION BY PEDZISAI RUHANYA
There are critical observations of the electoral process that have assisted my conclusion of a victory for Tsvangirai in this decisive election. Firstly, the political environment attendant to the holding of the July 31 election is similar if not much better than the March 29 2008 poll in which the MDC parties won the presidential and parliamentary elections respectively.
Sadc and the African Union (AU)’s role in ensuring an environment in which citizens freely express their civil and political liberties, especially the absence of major cases of politically-motivated violence in the country, has helped Tsvangirai and the opposition in general to traverse the breath and width of the country. In this regard, political rallies by the MDC parties have largely taken place without interference by the police and vigilante militia groups, except here and there.
Meetings by Tsvangirai in places such as Rushinga in Mashonaland Central province and Kotwa in Mashonaland East, two of previously declared no-go areas for the MDC-T, have broadened his outreach to the electorate. The same goes for places such as Gokwe and Mataga in the Midlands province where Tsvangirai attracted huge crowds at his rallies.
This improvement and widening of the democratic space where Tsvangirai was able to meet ordinary people and explain his party’s policies centred on job creation, rural transformation, compulsory and free primary education and addressing maternity mortality in the hinterland, will benefit him hugely at the polls next week.
Secondly, the impact of the MDC-T’s economic policies and management under Finance minister Tendai Biti would benefit Tsvangirai and his party hugely, especially the dollarisation of the economy and macro-economic policies that addressed spiralling inflation. This could be debatable, but generally, Zimbabweans credit Biti and his party for the economic order prevailing in the country.
Throughout the political rallies that I attended in Mutare, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Marondera and Kwekwe, it was clear that people do not want a return to the old order of economic chaos, food shortages, diseases and the collapse of social delivery systems such as education and health. When Tsvangirai pulled out a huge bundle of worthless Zimbabwe dollars, the crowds at the rallies would shout that they would never want to return to that order again.
They associate hyperinflation with Mugabe and Zanu PF’s bad economic policies. Thirdly, Tsvangirai has managed to have more rallies in the countryside than Mugabe who is scheduled to have less than 15 rallies nationally due to old age and failing health. The important thing to note about Tsvangirai’s rallies is that people attended them freely without any form of coercion. More so, before Tsvangirai holds a provincial rally, he would have held several rallies in the districts, growth points and critical service centres.
It is important to note that in the March 2008 election, Tsvangirai won in most places that he visited including in places where Zanu PF won parliamentary seats, but lost the presidential vote. He also won convincingly in most peri-urban settlements.
I have also noticed Tsvangirai has visited all these places and even more during his impromptu visits. In contradistinction to Mugabe, my observation of Tsvangirai rallies are that people are not bused to them. The huge rallies by Mugabe are rather misleading.
They are provincial rallies where most of the districts bus their supporters because the president is only addressing a single rally in the province. This mainly explains the huge numbers at his rallies. In some cases, like one situation I witnessed in Chitungwiza, people were forced to close their businesses, especially informal traders, to attend Mugabe’s rallies.
Businesses and traders are threatened with closure if they refuse to comply. Most of the people who attended the rallies to protect their businesses not for the love of the party. Others also attended the rallies to get free regalia that the party has purchased in millions.
The fourth reason why Tsvangirai could win this election, bar technical electoral manipulation, is the Matabeleland factor. It has been argued and postulated that the failure by Tsvangirai and Professor Welshman Ncube to form an electoral coalition ahead of the poll could hurt Tsvangirai’s chances of victory. While this could still be a possibility, indications at least from the rally Tsvangirai addressed in White City Stadium on July 20 where thousands of people attended, especially workers in the industrial areas, indicate that people could have learnt from the divisions that cost the opposition the presidency in 2008.
So, whereas the political leaders and the elites could make their permutations on the basis of their alleged strengths in the region, the Bulawayo rally indicated people have made a choice to give Tsvangirai a chance. This is important because about 400 metres from the stadium, Dumiso Dabengwa was addressing a very poorly attended rally.
The majority of people went to listen to Tsvangirai. If this rally can be used to measure people’s commitment, then it is possible to suggest that people want to vote for a person who has a realistic chance of defeating Mugabe My postulation is that the people in this region have critical agency and could be more rational than the elites and academics who postulate on possible divisions without empirical data to guide them on how people are likely to vote.
If what happened in Bulawayo is replicated in the other two Matabeleland provinces, then Tsvangirai is likely to improve from how he performed in 2008. This means a possible majority vote for him in the region. If that happens, Tsvangirai stands to win with a better margin than he did in 2008. The fifth factor that aides a possible Tsvangirai victory is the nature of the media landscape in the country during this election.
Unlike in 2008 where there were only two government-controlled daily newspapers, in this election there are two private daily newspapers — NewsDay and Daily News — providing coverage to all political players and in some cases exposing and rebutting government propaganda. Thus, the opposition has platforms to share their ideas and the electorate has an opportunity to make a choice on the basis of what the parties are offering them as enunciated in their manifestos.
Since the 2008 election, social media has grown phenomenally and is playing a critical role as a public sphere that is beyond the realm of state control. Many people now have cellphones on which they can access the internet. In this election, it is becoming difficult to censor news and debates as information is posted on social media without the control of the state. Citizens use this information to inform their decisions.
This is why the Baba Jukwa phenomenon has rocked the country. The faceless Facebook character has become so popular because of exposés that ordinarily the official and old media can’t write or show because of fear of losing licenses and journalists fear possible harassment and arrests.
The administration of an opaque and authoritarian political system is associated with Mugabe and his candidature is at the receiving end of such platforms. While it is difficult to predict the impact of Mugabe’s health and old age in this election, what is clear is that he is approaching 90 years and voters would ordinarily be uninterested in re-electing an old man — Tsvangirai could largely benefit from his frailty and some glaring memory lapses.
Tsvangirai is young and energetic as seen by his several rallies across the country that Mugabe could hardly do. Over and above these factors, Mugabe’s message is not clear, it has no hope, it is negative and at times irrelevant to the plight of the people. That explains why many people leave his rallies half-way through his speeches. There is deep-seated discontent.
The mood in the country is that of change and moving forward. People are not interested in political and economic regression. Mugabe seems to represent the past anchored on repression and authoritarianism. The liberal social democratic ethos of the Tsvangirai campaign resonates with the majority of young people and the general public. Ruhanya is the director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.