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New election narratives useful, but …

A NEW narrative has emerged on why the main opposition MDC-T has lost previous general elections, mainly the 2013 polls, as analysts seek fresh explanations on this ahead of next year’s watershed electoral battle.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

This week former MDC-T senior official Toendepi Shonhe grabbed the limelight after writing a paper titled The Prospects of a Grand Coalition in Zimbabwe’s 2018 Elections: An Ideological Lens.

Shonhe, who was billed to speak at a Sapes Policy Dialogue Forum last night together with People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti, MDC-T vice-president Nelson Chamisa and activist Farai Maguwu, on the opposition grand coalition, electoral reforms and the 2018 elections, argues the opposition united front will fail in the polls for many reasons.

These include Zanu PF’s populist and redistributive policies, its superior organisational capacity and access to state resources, legacies of the liberation struggle, persistent memories of colonialism, land reform, indigenisation and the changing political economy.

Shonhe also accuses the opposition of ideological bankruptcy, weak leadership, lack of strategic thinking, bad messaging, poor intelligence gathering and limited statecraft, among other problems.

As a result, he sees the grand coalition failing on a grand scale.

His argument seemed to gain traction after a survey done by Afrobarometer, assisted by Mass Public Opinion Institute.

The survey claimed 56% of the people interviewed said they approved the way Mugabe has done his job in the past 12 months; 34% disapproved and 11% refused to say or simply said they don’t know.

It also said Zanu PF has an edge if the presidential election was to be held just after the study.

The survey, based on a stratified probability sample of 1 200 adult Zimbabweans, was done from January 28 to February 10 2017.

Asked which party’s candidate one would vote for in a hypothetical presidential election, a day after the survey, 38% said Zanu PF, 24 % refused to answer, 16 % said MDC-T, 11% said they would not vote and 4% said they would vote for a ZimPF candidate (before the split) and 2% said they would vote for other parties.

Enter Stephen Chan and Julia Gallagher in their latest book, Mugabe’s Last Stand: The 2013 Elections in Zimbabwe and Their Aftermath. The new narrative is only bound to gain momentum, at least for now.

The MDC-T’s unusual introspection in its new Elections Think-Tank Report further lends weight to this argument. Of course, there are nuances in all these pieces works, but the argument is essentially that besides electoral irregularities, the MDC-T lost the last elections mainly due to internal leadership and policy failures.

Chan and Gallagher explain how Zanu PF T “fairly and unfairly” won the 2013 elections, while the MDC-T “ineptly lost” against a backdrop of social and political changes across the country and region.

These arguments are very sound and welcome, as the MDC-T document itself shows, but in the process they give hostage to fortune to Zanu PF. The party will find it even more justified to reject reforms, pointing to these studies as a justification.

No doubt, the new narrative enriches debate, but it may very well minimise or even downplay the impact of electoral irregularities, manipulation and rigging of next year’s elections.

Even if it is clear the new argument has merit, it cannot be credibly denied that the 2013 elections were clearly manipulated, rigged, if you will. What is not clear, though, is which of these factors decisively influenced the outcome.

Evidence of manipulation was abound: chaotic voters’ registration, registering voters illegally, voters’ roll irregularities, turning away of over half-a-million registered voters, use of fraudulent registration slips, duplication or missing of thousands of names, unusual high numbers of assisted voters, ghost voters and partisan electoral officials as well as security forces’ involvement.

In other words, there was calculated and systematic disenfranchisement of voters and electoral theft on a massive scale.

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