MDC reels in numbers game

Ray Matikinye


THE outcome of the just-ended parliamentary by-elections and rural district council polls did not escape the tedium of predictability. What could not be forecasted though was the margin between contesting partie

s, with both claiming strong support.


Like all other earlier polls, Zanu PF looked set to win and the opposition parties prepared the script of whimpering about irregularities as they have often done in the past.


While Zanu PF made sure its presence in the constituencies was felt by holding rallies, the opposition relied on the perceived dissatisfaction of an electorate menaced by endless economic hardships.


What is becoming predictable as well is how swiftly civic organisations jump into the opposition’s corner and join them to commiserate about lack of transparency or claim irregularities in the elections.


Three weeks before the polls in Rushinga, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), a coalition of 35 civic organisations, gave a foretaste of what their reaction would be when it was evident the opposition was going to get a smarting wallop.


“The network has observed low turnout in the last elections that were held in Budiriro and Chegutu and believes that the responsible authority is not putting much effort into increasing people’s interest in the elections,” Zesn said in a statement.


“In this regard Zesn urges the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to embark on a vigorous voter education campaign in order to ensure increased citizen participation in these elections and future elections.”


Zesn played the Cassandra role of warning about possibilities of an apathetic vote, charging that the electorate in some areas was still in the dark about impending polls. It took issue with the ZEC for failing in its duties to educate the electorate about the impending by-election as well as the rural district council ward polls.


ZEC on its part contested the accusations, explaining that it had deployed personnel not only in Rushinga but all other wards in the constituency where elections were due.


The electoral body said it had complemented these activities with adverts in the print and electronic media in the form of notices and press releases.


ZEC voter education and public relations director, Utloile Silaigwana, said the commission would appreciate it if Zesn played its part in voter education.


“In terms of Section 14 (1) (b) and 15 (1)(b) (i) and (ii) of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act, Zesn can provide voter education to complement that provided by ZEC,” Silaigwana said.


The results rebut earlier claims by opposition parties that they had made significant inroads into traditional Zanu PF strongholds even with the odds tilted heavily in favour of the ruling party.


Since the 2000 general election when Zanu PF unleashed war veterans on the electorate as coercing agents, the opposition MDC has had limited success in polls.


Observers point out that the political parties concerned should play a role by spearheading awareness campaigns in the areas they want to contest. Political parties have vested interests in the elections and should therefore raise the pitch of the contest.


Denford Beremauro, an election observation officer with Zesn, said of the polls: “Youths appeared uninterested in the elections, leaving the task to the elderly. It was evident both parties did not have money to launch serious campaigns.”


Even when Zesn’s complaint resonated with the Zanu PF candidate, Lazarus Dokora, who observed that “in the eastern section of the constituency some people in remote areas failed to inspect the voters’ roll because they did not get information on time”, political parties could excite voters’ interest in polls. They have a lot at stake in the contested constituency.


Apparently, the opposition continues to suffer comfortable martyrdom, meeting with continuous defeats in rural areas and blaming the electoral process. The MDC appeared to seek consolation in the outpouring of sympathy from election monitoring agencies.


For instance, in the 2000 parliamentary election for the Chikomba constituency, Zanu PF candidate Chenjerai Hunzvi polled 13 417 votes against Peter Kaunda of the MDC who garnered 6 776 votes. Other opposition party candidates Julia Kunzekwenyika (Independent), Moses Jiri (United Parties), Patrick Charles (Independent) and Leticia Mujeni (ZIP) polled a total of 1 096 among them.


During a by-election for the same constituency following Hunzvi’s death, the MDC seemed to lose steam when its candidate, Oswald Ndanga, polled 1 569 votes less than Kaunda while Zanu PF increased its tally by 2 163 votes.


Pimiel Kadengu fared better by polling the highest of all previous MDC candidates at 7 403 against the winner Tichaona Jokonya’s 17 728 in 2005. In 2000, Lazarus Dokora of Zanu PF polled 20 027 against Joel Mugariri of the MDC’s 2 483 for the Rushinga parliamentary election.


Five years later in 2005 Sandura Machirori of Zanu PF polled 22 494 against Brainee Mufuka of the MDC who scraped a mere 2 298.


On the rebound after initially losing party primaries in Rushinga, Dokora made short shrift of opposition candidate Kudakwashe Chideya winning by 13 642 to 1 801, while in Chikomba Steven Chiurayi beat Moses Jiri of the MDC with 11 247 votes to the opposition candidate’s 4 243.


More than 8 000 less people voted for Zanu PF in the by-election than those who went to the polls in March 2005, with more than 10 000 ignoring the election completely, most likely due to frustration that the outcome would not bring about any change in their lives.


This is the lowest an MDC candidate has mustered since it stormed the political scene almost seven years ago with the potential to unseat the ruling Zanu PF, in power for two decades.


The statistics indicated the opposition losing steam in its crusade to appeal to the rural voter for support, most likely because party functionaries are hamstrung by fear to drum up support from grassroots voters.


What appears to be the bane of the opposition is its failure and inability to appreciate the numbers game, vital for any opposition to wrest victory from the incumbent.


The peasant and the working class are prepared to suffer severe hardships almost indefinitely provided they have some proof, in the mould of courageous leaders, that they will be better off and a better future lies ahead for them and their children.


The opposition MDC has basked in the glory of working-class support, much of which has been decimated by joblessness and the slum clearance exercise in May last year that dumped most of their supporters in rural areas. It has failed to follow up on the masses evicted in the mass removals to take advantage of their anger and convert it to bolster its standing.


Despite these two resounding defeats spokesman for the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC Nelson Chamisa said his party would continue to contest such elections even though it is currently putting more emphasis on organising what Tsvangirai has termed “democratic resistance”.


“Both constituencies have been turned into war zones. They are under siege. Our supporters are having a torrid time there,” Chamisa complained on the eve of the elections. But Zanu PF spokesman, Nathan Shamuyarira, scoffed at the accusations: “They know they will lose. That’s why they are making those allegations and I am not surprised.”