THE outcome of the March 16 constitutional referendum has created a political buzz of unsubstantiated claims of extrapolated victory by certain political players, mainly Zanu PF, despite the fact that citizens were not voting for specific parties and the fluidity and distortive nature of the applicable statistics and voting patterns.
Opinion by Pedzisai Ruhanya
What seems clear from the huge voter turnout, bar any possibilities of ballot stuffing, was the swirling desire to end this transitional arrangement and begin a new political order through credible, free and fair elections, starting with the adoption of the new draft constitution as a signifier to a democratic future.
Such a desire and political momentum for change and hope is less associated with supporters of an incumbent regime that has benefited from an undemocratic political and electoral system over the years.
These huge numbers are largely of people who want to break with the past authoritarian system and chart a new democratic future for the country.
Histories of political transitions, especially those in which citizens yearn to break from a political past of massive human rights violations and undemocratic governance systems run by unaccountable executive incumbents, largely show citizens do not turn freely in huge numbers to retain a repressive regime.
This prognosis is mainly explained by the huge jump in voters in the two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo and other parts of rural Zimbabwe.
Citizens in these cities made up of the working class, students and the unemployed cannot turn out in huge numbers to endorse a repressive regime largely responsible for the economic failure the country has been grappling with for over a decade.
Not to mention the plethora of human rights violations associated with President Robert Mugabe’s regime. Surely, Zimbabweans cannot turn out in huge numbers to endorse such a norm-violating regime.
In the March 2008 presidential election, 315 447 voted in Harare and 517 458 voted in the March 16 referendum, while 97 236 people voted in Bulawayo during the 2008 poll and 131 064 in the referendum.
There was therefore an increase of 202 011 and 33 915 in Harare and Bualwayo respectively during the referendum. This huge leap in turnout in these cities, if replicated and increased in the coming general elections, has the capacity to wipe out the numbers in the so-called strongholds of Zanu PF.
However, it should be noted that during the referendum, it was easy to vote and the country was one constituent, among many other enabling factors.
The referendum results tell us that the highest increase in voter turnout between 2008 and the referendum was recorded in Harare (64%). Similarly, an analysis of the preliminary data from the 2012 census shows there are 1 147 715 people eligible to vote in Harare, but of these only 517 458 voted in the referendum.
In Bulawayo, there are 358 654 people eligible to vote but only 131 151 voted in the referendum, 36% of potential voters.
This data shows us there is a huge pool of people who should be urged to both register and vote in the next elections.
Against this background, should this craving to participate in electoral processes shown in the referendum in urban centres and the countryside replicate itself in the coming elections, there is little chance of Mugabe defeating MDC-T leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
In the March 2008 election, Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election with 1 195 562 against Mugabe’s 1 079 730 votes.
This was despite the fact that Tsvangirai only carried the popular vote in Harare, Bulawayo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North with Mugabe winning in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and narrowly in Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South.
Mugabe’s narrow victories, which were by less than 15 000 votes per province, were wiped out by resounding victories by Tsvangirai in Harare and Bulawayo. Apart from demonstrating that Harare and Bulawayo are very influential in the presidential election matrix, this also nullifies the flawed analysis that rural areas are necessarily Zanu PF and Mugabe strongholds.
This claim is a myth of the old political testament of Zimbabwean politics. The new political testament and the reality is that Mugabe no longer has strongholds to talk about.
If they exist, they are mainly due to the margin of terror that the next elections must eliminate through a robust Sadc and African Union monitoring and observation process.
However, the best political insurance against fear becoming a decisive factor is the critical need for democratic forces to unite in the coming defining poll.
Evidence shows Mugabe (89) looks tired, old and therefore not attractive to the majority of largely young voters for another five-year term which will end when he would be 94. Above all, he presides over an incorrigibly corrupt and predatory political oligarchy currently involved in a co-ordinated crackdown on human rights activists and trampling of civil and political liberties.
Most significantly, if one analyses the March 2008 presidential election, it would be observed that Simba Makoni of Mavambo/ Kusile/ Dawn polled 204 000 votes. It’s clear that these people largely voted against Mugabe, although maybe not persuaded enough to vote for Tsvangirai.
If these votes are harnessed and added to the vote for change — which means against Mugabe — claims of exclusive Zanu PF strongholds become a nullity or a fallacy actually.
If Tsvangirai negotiates and builds a coalition against Mugabe, the incumbent will mainly be isolated to the three Mashonaland provinces as his real but uncertain strongholds. His vote then becomes purely an ethnic, not national mandate.
For this reason and moving forward, it is clear Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa and Makoni must unite as a matter of political necessity and urgency in the next watershed elections. If they do that Zanu PF will thoroughly lose the elections.
Ncube is particularly important in that the majority of votes that Makoni got in 2008 were in areas where his candidates won in the parliamentary and local government elections.
Mugabe and Zanu PF’s fate will be further sealed if the leadership of the MDC parties and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), as well as other democratic civic forces, come up with an electoral pact.
The 6% who rejected the draft constitution, that were mobilised by the NCA and its partners, could be crucial if the MDC parties close ranks with these agents of change. In this scenario, unfounded claims by Zanu PF that the referendum result reflects its potential electoral victory ahead could simply prove delusional.
New evidence in electoral studies suggests the repetition of electoral processes, even if flawed or manipulated as has been the norm in Zimbabwe, can result in democratisation.
There is truth in this if one were to examine empirical evidence on Zimbabwe’s electoral history since 1980.
The February 2000 constitutional referendum defeat of Zanu PF, the close shave general elections of June 2000, where Zanu PF narrowly won through the margin of terror and the defeat of Mugabe by Tsvangirai in the first round of the March 2008 presidential election, the regime’s loss of a parliamentary majority the same year and its vanquishing in local government elections since 2000, prove that even in circumstances of political repression and electoral malpractices continued elections can result in the eventual downfall of the incumbent regime.
However, it should be cautioned that this outcome — of winning elections in manipulated circumstances — is not inevitable.
But if the democratic opposition and civic actors in Zimbabwe unite, they would be in a much better position to defeat Mugabe and his party and secure change.
Ruhanya is director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.