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Inside three swing provinces that will decide entry to State House in 2023 polls

05 Aug 2022 at 09:29hrs | Views
The 2023 general election may see the highest turnout in decades, though it comes at the same time as vast uncertainty about the independent auditability of the voters roll and electoral systems, ballots security and the role of security apparatus.

For a long time, commentators and strategists have lamented the uneven electoral playing field. For the second consecutive cycle, Zanu PF see a path to victory that does not include a wider popular vote. And for the third cycle in a row, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), a MDC-T breakaway new party may just have designs on control of the National Assembly - but can win it only by flipping seats in provinces where Zanu PF is favoured. The electoral map is the largest in a long time, with once reliably Zanu PF provinces like Mashonaland West and Midlands being contested by CCC and once reliably CCC provinces like Bulawayo getting a hard look from Zanu PF -  a chance for Zanu PF to hold on to their 2018 gains, or for CCC to erase them.

Voters in seven safe provinces will weigh in on about 5 million ballot measures, (current estimate) influencing the outcome from whether CCC can adopt and control government business in parliament, service delivery in towns and cities to whether Zanu PF's government can walk us through the legislative agenda towards 2030 vision. But the most money and organising will be poured into the race for president between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Mr Nelson Chamisa in swing provinces (those provinces in Zimbabwe presidential election that could potentially be won by either candidate. Also known as battleground province) with over 1 million votes (again, current estimate) deciding everything-that is who wins the presidency. The map of swing provinces has not expanded since the start of the year or at least since the last presidential election in 2018, but every province where the gap between Mnangagwa and Chamisa was fewer than 20 percentage points remains competitive, and potentially decisive. The opposite are safe provinces that are not prioritised in terms of allocating time and resources during the election campaign: Bulawayo, Harare, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Midlands. Credible conventional wisdom is that President Mnangagwa is much stronger in rural areas, Mr Chamisa in the towns and cities.

Therefore, a select list of three vote-rich provinces- Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South could hold the key to next year's presidential contest between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Mr Nelson Chamisa, making them hotbeds of political campaigns in the countdown to the July/August 2023 polls. An analysis of the two most recent presidential elections shows the three provinces made all the difference between the opposition coalition's MDC-Alliance double wins in Manicaland and Matabeleland North and the ruling Zanu PF's show of resiliance in Matabeleland South as well as Manicaland were it lost in a nail- biting finish because of the swing province phenomena, indicating their huge bearing on next year's polls if past voting patterns are replicated.

In the 2013 general election, however, president Robert Mugabe widened the gap between him and Mr Morgan Tsvangirai by more than 938 000 votes, helped in a big part by the three provinces which collectively gave Zanu PF Party an additional 420 413 votes.

In 2018, Emmerson Mnangagwa beat his main competitor to the presidency, Nelson Chamisa, by a thin margin of 300,000 votes-avoiding a run-off based on the electoral rules that require a wining presidential candidate to secure above 50 per cent of total votes cast plus 1 (the so called 50%+1 vote template). As a result: "The narrowness of the result suggests that Mnangagwa is the last of the Zanu-PF giants and that at the next election the opposition will have everything to play for," opined Prof Stephen Chan, an expert in African politics at the University of London, back in 2018 to The Guardian Newspaper. Based on recent political trends and previous presidential results in three of the swing provinces — there are a few things to note.

Although the 2018 presidential results is contestated, largely citing process flaws, the figures are the only reliable numbers to compare voting patterns with 2013, given that Mr Chamisa approached the conservative Constitutional Court and was denied relief- a dispute that weakens the people's faith that the election produced an outcome not reflective of their will. Moreso, the difference between the presidential and parliamentary tally does not tally up.

The analysis is also based on the assumption that the President Mnangagwa and Mr Chamisa will eventually be on the ballot in 2023. As such, in 2018 the cumulative vote for Mr Chamisa is 524 332 and that of President Mnangagwa is 511 398 and yet the difference was 12 934 votes in favour of Mr Chamisa across the three swing provinces. In comparison to Mr Morgan Tsvangirai's 2013 votes,

across the swing provinces from the 2013 tally. Zanu PF won one swing province-Matabeleland South in 2018 presidential election with 107 008 ballots, a jump from 81 180 polled by former president Robert Mugabe in 2013 against Mr Chamisa's 90 292 up from 58 633 posted by Mr Tsvangirai in 2013. As a result 16 716 votes separated them in favour of President Mnangagwa.

In Matabeland North, Mr Chamisa posted 137 611 votes up from 98 596 in 2013 representing an increase of 39 015 votes. On the other hand, Mnangagwa polled 111 452 ballots an increase of 30 245 from the 98 596 total in 2013. The difference was 26 159 ballots in Chamisa's credit.

The biggest gain for Mr Chamisa come from Manicaland were voters demonstrated their power at the fulcrum of a closely divided province as they put his spin from Tsvangirai's 180 552 votes in 2013 to 296 429 ballots against President Mnangagwa's 292 938 in 2018. Thus, Chamisa posted an impressive increase of 115 877 votes and yet Mnangagwa was only trailing with 3 491 votes making Manicaland the closest fought province in 2018 presidential election. This is further proof of what poll after poll has told us: Elections is a game of numbers!

In contrast,in comparison to 2013 tally, President Mnangagwa gained nearly 90 985 extra votes

2018. Zanu PF's biggest jump also come from Manicaland with 258 026 votes in 2013 to 292 938 in 2018 a gain of 34 812 votes. The difference was a low 3 491 votes, placing an exclamation point on the underlying voter divergence underlining the need for both President Mnangagwa and Mr Chamisa to campaign harder in these regions to win the hearts of voters and hold on to their 2018 gains, or for either party to erase them as swing provinces create an election that is too close to call, it turns out, are difficult to predict. Only by watching how these three develop can we understand how they are likely to play out in 2023.

Neither all CCC, nor all Zanu PF provinces are carbon copies of each other. Significant differences remain within each bloc (and between urban and rural areas within each province. For instance, provinces such as Mashonaland West and Midlands—are considered in play for Zanu PF in 2023 but are relatively easy to flip CCC in this graphic where the difference is only 94 000 votes in each of the two provinces. Similarly Bulawayo a CCC turf with a 83 000 votes difference maybe seen as an easy target by Zanu PF. However, Zimbabwe is rapidly urbanising with the proportion of the population in urban areas jumping from 33 percent in 2012 to 38,6 percent by the end of April this year according to Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat) preliminary 2022 census results. Harare, with more than 960 000 registered voters (and counting), is the biggest safe bloc that Mr Chamisa CCC flagbearer is keen to bag.

In 2018, Chamisa got 548 889 while Mnangagwa garnered 204 710 votes. While no election outcome is guaranteed and both candidates prospects could improve over the next 12 months, virtually all of the evidence that we have reviewed – historical patterns, structural features of this election cycle, and and by-elections. conducted over the last several months– points to this ideal sequence of events: If Harare reach 1 million registered voters as we expect by end of 2022 then come 2023 general election we can expect a bruising encounter. However, if CCC manage a runaway victory in Harare province it will have a huge leverage going to the other safe provinces and ultimately to the swing provinces that will then determine the presidency. Assuming Chamisa wins in Harare then Mnangagwa is likely to turn to nearby Mashonaland Central to mount a major comeback. The figures show that Zanu PF has mass mobilisation muscle and grip even at the mobilising capacity to win big in their strongholds particularly in Mashonaland Central were Mnangagwa got 366 785 votes against Chamisa's 97 097 in 2018 and also to narrow the margin in the opposition strongholds.

The biggest warning to CCC, many of whom ride on the popularity of their leader, is perhaps the turnout during the March 26th National Assembly by-elections were the cumulative vote for the CCC was129 799 and that of Zanu PF is 128 399. The difference is 1 400 and yet Zanu PF only won 9 seats with CCC scooping the other 19 constituencies. Yes, by-elections usually give a wrong impression however, these statistics can not be ignored.

But there remains at least one huge question mark- if CCC fail to stimulate massive voter turn-out on polling day... l bet several emminent readers will predict a bleak picture of an imminent disaster- it will be clear that CCC will be cornered and as a result we can not deny evidence that is on record.

In comparison, Mr Chamisa will likely push for opposition offensive in President Mnangagwa's strongholds of Mashonaland West and Midlands where he managed to narrow gap to 94 000 votes in each of the two provinces in 2018 from 176 696 and 133 583 in 2013 respectively. In relation to Mashonaland West, we are not sure whether this was a stinging rebuke from Mr Mugabe's supporters or not, but what we certain is that Mr Chamisa managed to reduce the gap were it mattered most. Although President Mnangagwa won the province he only managed to add 35 646 votes to the 2013 figure of 277 312. For Zanu PF, the opposition offensive should be a source of rising alarm. In conclusion, 2023 presidential election will come down to two important questions: Who actually votes, and who do they vote for? As much will depend on which party has built the most effective infrastructure for getting the vote out. However, to mobilise these voters will take a lot of grass-roots organising efforts, particularly more labour-union-centrered organising as oppossed to voter buying. It is one thing to attract support in an opinion poll and another to get those people to turn out in force on election day.

While it is normally safe to assume that the ruling party has an advantage in this regard, given greater access to resources and state equipment, the situation is complicated in 2023 by three factors. First, opposition political players in the country are getting to really understand the power of social media and blend it with an equally powerful traditional ground campaign. Second, it is easy for Chamisa to ride on a combination of popular frustrations at the country's current economic challenges and assumptions that change will bring long-term growth- the fact that the Zanu PF government has succeeded in shifting policy towards the east on so many fronts has spurred widespread frustration amongst Zimbabweans. Third, Zanu PF need to show how it can do things different- that way at least have a platform to run on in 2023 presidential election if they can succeed in weaving a coherent narrative on their achievements.

Mr Chamisa's #Ngaapindehakemukomana has emphasised transcending generational age bias in the urban rural voting patterns, which could help the him reduce reliance on the nearly 100 per cent voter turnout in Harare and Bulawayo that helped MDC-Alliance to navigate in 2018.

While Zanu PF strategists are trumpeting that the presidency is already heading towards them at least according to new Afrobarometer survey released in June, more evidence based polls may be needed to inform the triangulation process because a late spike in CCC enthusiasm could spur the hopes of party leaders who believe the presidential race is not a lost cause- especially against a painful punch of high inflation that could scare off rural voters away from Zanu PF.

Therefore to rubber stamp this race as a walk-over, almost certain to produce another Zanu PF presidency, distorts the evidence and does a disservice to readers who rely upon such punditry. Beyond doubt, the 2023 presidential election will be a trial by fire for Zimbabwe's democracy and democratic resilience. The ballot fight is on! And may the three swing provinces please stand up...

Farai Chirimumimba is a Freelance Journalist- Democracy, Elections and Gender Issues.

Source - Farai Chirimumimba
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