HomeOpinionPoll statistics stir familiar dispute

Poll statistics stir familiar dispute

Ray Matikinye

ZIMBABWE’S election results in the 21st century have broken their own record. Two general elections and a presidential poll in the past five years raised the losing contestants’ hackles and generated intense disputes that the nature of their outc

ome appears cloned from a prototype.

Investing so much faith in translucent ballot boxes and the new arrangement of one-day voting, followed by counting of ballots at each polling station, did not guarantee transparency as many Zimbabweans believed.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has rejected the results of last Thursday’s polls outright while the ruling Zanu PF is basking in the glory of having handed the opposition party a crushing defeat, garnering the elusive two-thirds majority it needs for constitutional change.

Mugabe direly needed the required majority to consolidate his grip on power. The ruling Zanu PF had predicted a landslide even before the final vote count was announced.

“We are going to win. By how much is what we are going to see,” President Robert Mugabe beamed after casting his vote at Cyril Jennings Hall on Thursday before discussing his party’s intention to make constitutional changes after garnering the required two-thirds majority.

Pollsters have remained unsurprised by the source of dispute — statistics.

Political pundits have often described statistics as the most vulnerable and unreliable form of determinant, particularly because these are susceptible to manipulation and easily convert into counterfeit data, often employed to achieve an end.

Zimbabwe’s bureaucracy has become a master at using counterfeit data to prolong the lifespan of a moribund regime.

Oddly enough, the MDC, which said it had reversed its decision to boycott the election in response to pressure from 95% of its members and took the decision with “ a heavy heart”, fully aware that the odds were heavily skewed in their opponent’s favour, came out of the poll battle with an even heavier heart. The election outcome inflicted on the opposition party untold heartaches and left it wondering whether it was worth all the effort.

Voter figures released by the newly constituted Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) appear at variance with those announced as polled by Zanu PF candidates in several constituencies.

But the African Union (AU), the 13-member regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and government delegations from Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi joined economic powerhouse South Africa in saying the poll was free, credible and reflected the will of the people.

For the South African observer teams giving the election a clean bill of health seems to be a clone from a prototype too. When polling day came, about a tenth of the voters were turned away from polling stations for various reasons.

One constituency, in which 14 812 people voted, according to ZEC, was announced the next day to have awarded more than 15 000 votes to the president’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwawo.

Bulawayo South MP David Coltart, who is also an attorney, said the party was preparing a report on election fraud. He said it would document “major disparities” in the vote, including an unexplained 244 000-vote increase in the turnout, hours after the official vote had been announced.

Although MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai ruled out taking legal action to contest the results on the back of past experience of the 35 contested cases whose outcome had been stayed by the Supreme Court since 2000, Coltart said the party may consider contesting as many as 10 individual races to document the poll abuses.

An analysis of the election results indicates that in a number of districts where Zanu PF candidates won narrowly, the number of people who tried to vote but were turned away on technical grounds exceeded the margin of the opposition candidates’ defeat.

According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), in Makoni East for instance, where Zanu PF won by 9 201 votes compared to the MDC’s 7 708, a total of 2 223 voters were turned away. In addition, in Mutasa South, where Zanu PF got 9 715 and MDC 9 380 votes, a total of 1 460 voters were turned away. In both cases, the number of voters turned away was higher than the margin of victory.

This contravenes Sadc principles and guidelines which oblige all states to allow all citizens the right to participate in the political process and afford them equal opportunity to vote.

Tsvangirai told a media briefing that among the irregularities his team had uncovered was subjective use of postal votes, citing 800 party militia he said had been deployed into one constituency to bolster Zanu PF support.

Glaring variances are evident in the Beitbridge constituency where 36 821 people had voted by close of voting, according to announcements by the ZEC. But the winning Zanu PF candidate polled 14 305 votes while his opponent garnered 6 297 votes, giving a total of 20 602 votes. The total leaves 16 219 votes unaccounted for.

Five years ago only 21 680 people voted in the constituency, pointing to a phenomenal increase of 15 141 more registered voters this year.

By contrast, Mutare South recorded 8 558 less voters than those who voted in 2000. This time the constituency had 14 054 ballots cast last Thursday although the final result showed the total votes were 19 772, with 11 552 going to the ruling party.

The discrepancies in the number of people who cast their votes in six of the 13 constituencies as announced by ZEC exactly equals the number of voters turned away in the whole province. These discrepancies are in Chegutu (8 221), Hurungwe East (3 227), Hurungwe West (2 789), Manyame (8 948), Zvimba North (7 931) and Zvimba South (4 447). ZEC announced that 250 806 voters had cast their votes in Mashonaland West province with 35 267 voters turned away.

When an election official in Harare South constituency heard election figures announced over national radio, he was taken aback: “Those are not the total votes our team agreed with the contesting parties as the final figures for the election,” he remarked.

With the European Union (EU) condemning the election and the US damning it as a “sham” for its inconsistencies, Zimbabwe is set for a long haul of economic stagnation. The cost of a landslide victory could be a worsening of economic prospects for a country that desperately needs foreign direct investment to survive. It could prolong Zimbabwe’s isolation from the international community.

While the poll outcome has entrenched Mugabe’s grip on power, the chorus of condemnation about his manner of victory from important international quarters is only likely to worsen Zimbabwe’s isolation.

University of Zimbabwe head of political and administrative studies Eldred Masunungure says more targeted European and American sanctions are likely to follow Mugabe’s victory.

“Some of the EU countries and America will contemplate stiffening and broadening the sanctions unless there is a fundamental policy shift by the government. There has to be a serious paradigm shift and Mugabe must make a conscious decision to change his domestic and foreign policies if he expects a reprieve from the international community,” says Masunungure.

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