EVERYWHERE around the world, vote-buying is rampant and a controversial issue.
Report by Brian Chitemba
Scholars, researchers and journalists have been increasingly writing about this subject which continues to plague many a body politic in different countries, especially those where the political culture easily permits the corruption of democracy and perpetration of electoral fraud.
Zimbabwe is certainly not an exception. Since 1980 there have been activities mainly during elections, done mostly by President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF officials, which have been widely interpreted as vote-buying.
These often include food aid and donations of agricultural inputs and implements, computers, as well as doling hand-outs to voters.
Zanu PF is, however, by no means the only party which towards elections distributes goods and materials usually seen as vote-buying activities even if it is not easy to draw the line.
To the oft asked question of whether vote-buying is undemocratic, most people’s gut feeling is that it is, yet we have few full explanations of why.
The reason is that normative assessments of vote-buying depend on situations and circumstances, although on the surface it appears like a straightforward issue.
United States professor of politics, Frederic Charles Schaffer, wrote a book titled Elections for Sale: The Causes and Consequences of Vote-buying, which is very revealing.
Schaffer specialises in comparative politics.
Substantively, he studied the meaning of democracy, the practice of voting, and the administration of elections.
His works cover such topics like what is vote-buying?, why study vote buying?, when does a market for votes on sale emerge? how do rules and institutions allow vote-buying? and is vote-buying undemocratic?
Since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwean politics has been dominated by patronage, mainly driven by Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies, which is part and parcel of their election campaign strategy and survival.
Zanu PF has also often unleashed political violence using state machinery, including the army, police and intelligence services.
Over and above politics of patronage and violence, the party also relies on vote-buying and ballot-rigging.
These problems are now entrenched in Zanu PF’s internal systems and national elections.
Vote-buying has been a critical tool in maintaining Mugabe and Zanu PF’s grip on power as they often splurge on farming inputs, computers and food to purchase the loyalties of usually vulnerable communities ahead of elections.
Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager and political commentator Jabusile Shumba said: “In the Zimbabwean context, vote-buying is a key feature of Zanu PF’s patronage politics since 1980 to sustain its political regeneration.
It stretches beyond food to the more complex policy arena where the state chooses winners and losers. Land reform and indigenisation are cases in point.”
Patronage has been playing out in local politics for a long time and manifests itself in various ways, including senior party and government appointments, government programmes such land reform and indigenisation as well as access to state resources.
The launch of farming initiatives such as the farm mechanisation programme which saw the dishing out of implements by Mugabe through state institutions, including Reserve Bank, ahead of the 2008 harmonised polls became synonymous with Zanu PF’s notorious vote-buying strategy.
That was over and above, the handing out of farms seized from white commercial farmers, their equipment, houses and other assets, including safaris and companies grabbed through political pressure.
The current indigenisation programme is also another campaign strategy and vote-buying mechanism, never mind its ideological and philosophical underpinnings.
In fact, Zanu PF made it clear during its annual conference in Bulawayo last year it will campaign on the indigenisation platform, after using land as the main centrepiece of its canvass for votes during the past decade.
As the next elections loom, Mugabe was last week in another controversial unveiling of US$20 million farming package for the 2012-13 summer cropping season in which Zanu PF supporters are expected to receive seed maize, bags of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and seed cotton, while Matabeleland farmers will get dipping chemicals and livestock supplements.
Convinced this amounted to vote-buying, Mugabe’s critics were quick to question the source of the US$20 million he is splashing on agricultural inputs given that Zanu PF and the government are supposedly bankrupt.
This prompted observers to conclude Zanu PF is siphoning diamond revenues which have failed to consistently flow to Treasury.
Recently Zanu PF failed to pay its 180 workers and has a debt amounting close to US$3 million.
During its last two annual conferences in Mutare and Bulawayo in 2010 and 2011, respectively, Zanu PF declared it was broke.
Bulawayo-based political analyst Rodrick Fayayo said a glance at Zanu PF history indicates political patronage has always been part of survival mechanisms.
“Our view has always been that instead of handing out parcels of food to people, policies should be put in place to enable people to fend for themselves rather than reducing and dehumanising people to beggars,” he said.
“I think it is important for a government to assist its people but what surprises us is that it is not part of the current leaders’ DNA to genuinely uplift electorates, beyond vote-buying.”