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Let's not mistake gifting votes for vote-rigging

26 Jul 2019 at 08:21hrs | Views
IT'S easy and convenient to shift blame from yourself.

After losing two by-elections recently, the main opposition MDC has been pointing fingers in the direction of the ruling Zanu-PF party, alleging vote-buying and outright vote-rigging. What should have been a walkover in view of the raging economic fires turned out to be an electoral rout for the MDC. Of course, they can recover and maintain ground if things don't improve soon, but the fact that they managed to lose even in the face of price increases, which should have worked in their favour, shows that politics has its many complexities.

Zimbabwean academic Ken Mufuka indirectly referred to how this phenomenon works. Mufuka, who is based in the United States, where he is now a naturalised citizen, observed: ". . . (United States President Donald) Trump has never lost his basic support from day one . . . In fact, as I speak, Trump has gained some support from his basic 38% to 45%." Yes, Trump, the most scandal-ridden President in American history, has not taken much of a knock from his sex romps and all.

Likewise, it's highly possible that Zanu-PF has not lost much support at all from its showing in the 2018 general election as those expressing anger with the ruling party never voted for it last year. What seems to have increased is the volume of anger against Zanu-PF from those who did not vote for the party last year, not the number of angry people. Unless and until there is a significant shift in support, Zanu-PF will hold its numbers because people don't switch sides as much in a polarised political environment like we have in Zimbabwe. This largely explains the Bikita and Nyanga by-election results.

Continued Mufuka: "Here is another juicy issue: I belong to a prayer group of hard-working white community leaders. The group, which includes the sheriff and his senior staff, meets every Friday morning at 6:30 for prayer before dispersing to our various tasks as the Lord has given us. While Trump got 64% of the South Carolina electorate, I have never heard anybody in that group confess to having voted for him."

In the 2018 elections, Zanu-PF nearly got 40% of the vote in Harare from support previously hovering around 25%-30%. What this means is rigging is not that much of a factor, but that many people are less than candid about their voting intentions and will tell you what you want to hear, not what they really mean.

This may sound like a contradiction or invalidation of the first point I have made above, that support hardly shifts in a highly polarised political environment, but it is not, as this affirms the complex and contradictory nature of politics I have also pointed above. For one, there was a paradigm shift in the dynamics of polarisation after the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017. To many, the reason for disliking and even hating Zanu-PF disappeared with the removal of Mugabe. People should accept that after Mugabe's ouster, many people — mostly urbanites — crossed party lines for the first time to vote for Zanu-PF; and that, of course, sulking Mugabe-backing people also crossed party lines for the first to vote for the MDC.

By the same token, polarisation also explains why the MDC has maintained and even increased support in its urban strongholds despite gross maladministration and rampant corruption bedevilling towns and cities run by the opposition party for nearly 20 years now. As I pointed out in my previous instalment, many South Africans indicated before that country's general election in May this year that they would again vote for the ruling ANC despite of and in spite of the ANC being corruption-ridden, and that Zanu-PF had been benefiting from the same phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Similarly, urban people in Zimbabwe have been voting for the MDC despite the corruption which has reduced service delivery to zero in many towns. When it comes to political loyalty, there can be no apparent reason or rhyme. Failings don't necessarily translate into losing votes.

The current goings-on at Bulawayo City Council, where residents are calling on the Zanu-PF government to replace the MDC-led council with a commission, also show that you can never take anything for granted in politics. This has elicited outrage from MDC co-vice president Welshman Ncube. Ncube, this week, said:

"Today, a strange coalition of seemingly well-meaning residents and organisations are once again cheering and urging (Local Government minister) July Moyo to do a coup against an elected council and install an unelected commission just because we have been offended by the actions of a tiny minority of the

There is nothing strange about that coalition because, by definition, a coalition is a temporary alliance for combined action. After all, the MDC itself did not think twice about going into an electoral pact with Mugabe before the 2018 elections, but Ncube did not raise a finger. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the MDC going onto bed with Mugabe because politics is the art of the possible. What is politically disingenuous is for Ncube to moralistically express reservations over "a coup against an elected council" when he did not raise a finger against the "strange coalition" between the MDC and notorious Zanu-PF militia leaders such as Jim Kunaka and Shadreck Mashayamombe just before the 2018 polls. Ncube's false differentiation must be exposed for what it is because, in the final analysis, there is nothing much to distinguish the MDC from Zanu-PF. None of them is on a higher moral pedestal.

Furthermore, life being multi-layered, the interests of the residents and the political interests of the MDC or Zanu-PF are not always the same and do collide now and then; that is why they are separate stand-alone organisations. Bulawayo residents' organisations have rightly observed that if you align too closely with one side, you lose autonomy and, thus, leverage.

Some of Ncube's disdain for Bulawayo residents' organisations could be informed by the phenomenon known as "democratic moral superiority complex", which led MDC secretary for elections Jacob Mafume to declare before the by-elections that "no person in their right mind will vote for Zanu-PF". "Democratic moral superiority", as defined by American author Karin McQuillan, is where politicians see their party as the be-all and end-all, demanding that people turn a blind eye to their failings. If I may paraphrase McQuillan — whose politics I don't agree with, but whose observations I concur with, showing the paradox of politics — there is this misplaced and baseless belief among some people that good and evil in this country is divided along party lines, with all the caring people in their party, and all greedy, mean people in the other. They also believe that intelligence is doled out along party lines. There is this misplaced assumption that Zanu-PF people are morons, while MDC people are the most brilliant people ever seen. Enclosed in their bubble of superiority, they can't visualise an intelligent person sincerely and rationally disagreeing with them and their party. So they jump to the conclusion that those people who question them somehow don't believe in their own ideas, but must have been bought by Zanu-PF to sabotage them. That, readers, is the least of my worries.

Because Ncube thinks intelligence and good and evil are divided along party lines, he fails to see that there is a middle ground – and many Zimbabweans, seeing the suicidal futility of polarisation, which only benefits politicians, are beginning to move and occupy that space. This shift is also seen in the decision by Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (Zimta) to dissociate from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) because the umbrella labour body has become overtly partisan, poisoning labour issues with politics. Zimta is not ZCTU; and ZCTU is not Zimta. Similarly, Bulawayo residents belong to various political parties or none at all. We cannot be defined by being Zanu-PF or MDC. This is a throwback to Old Testament days of "if you are not for me, you are against me".

All said, vote-rigging, going by the observation of MDC treasurer-general David Coltart, has been a minor factor, if at all. Said Coltart soon after the MDC elective congress in May this year: "We have let down our membership in . . . fundamental ways in the past 20 years . . . The leadership was divided and that was a failure to our supporters . . . It was a gift to Zanu-PF."

Indeed, let's not mistake gifting for rigging.

Source - newsday
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