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Inside elections: Can the yellow wave shake-up Mashonaland East?

26 May 2023 at 10:16hrs | Views
This is the first in a series of (inside elections) articles examining the politics and possible voting patterns of 2023's general election in expected swing/marginal National Assembly constituencies.

When it comes to new electoral boundaries of constituencies and wards, it is trite to point out that the process may result in neutralisation of votes. As such, using socio-economic composition and traditional voting patterns, we explore why this years's vote offers an opportunity for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) to flip seats from the ZANU-PF in Mashonaland East. As we shall discuss later, it is not in dispute that reorganisation (delimitation) of constituencies in Mashonaland East may have resulted in the reorganised constituencies taking a swing/marginal or battleground characteristics, what we may witness is a narrowing trend of margins between the CCC and ZANU-PF candidates in some constituencies - thereby deepening differences in political preferences in some parts of the province. But, of course, constituencies differ in very fundamental and important ways. In this regard, these are National Assembly seats that are too close to call and can go either way in Mashonaland East.

Despite candidates from the opposition parties investing in the province, no MDC-T or MDC-Alliance presidential candidate has carried Mashonaland East since since independence in 1980. In fact, no opposition won more seats in Mashonaland East on any level, despite numerous attempts. As in other provinces, the most opposition's parts of Mashonaland East actually lay in the new urban/peri-urban areas outside the biggest pool of vote which includes much of the rural areas. As a result the opposition consistently did better in the rest of urban/ peri-urban areas than they did deep in rural Mashonaland East - where most of the votes were.

In one sense, the discussion is rather premature in that it would have been more useful had it taken place soon after the general election. Undertaking this analysis after the general election process would perhaps draw a more acurate voting pattern derived from the results. However, putting aside the actual general election results, this analysis is important and timely in that its focus is mainly on the possibility of narrowing trend of margins between the CCC and ZANU-PF in a number of constituencies in Mashonaland East which were once considered safe seats (a foregone conclusion). In fact, some political parties have concluded primary elections and this analysis can help candidates get an impression of a historical background that can help us to predict the future. Furthermore, l am aware that some election results in Zimbabwe are controversial however, these are the only official figures we have.

With the foregoing in mind, there are three critical question to unpack in Mashonaland East namely: As a result of delimitation, which are some of the constituencies that have be significantly changed possibly turning from safe ZANU-PF seats towards a wing/marginal ones, harder for ZANU-PF politicians to hold on to?.

How important is voter turnout in swing constituencies?

In terms of recent voting patterns which political party can win these seats?

Before unpacking these possible swing constituencies, a brief background to the 2018 general election results in Mashonaland East might provide a useful context. In the presidential race, ZANU PF's candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa won 16 constituencies, two less than his party's tally, while the MDC Alliance's Nelson Chamisa won five constituencies namely Goromonzi West, Goromonzi South, Marondera Central, Marondera West and Seke - three more than his party's total (of two constituencies Goromonzi South and Marondera Central). In the parliamentary election the MDC-Alliance did not do as well as its presidential candidate because it lost seats to vote spliting and outright negligence as some candidates were reported as not having enough poll agents.

Evidence shows that some voters were prepared to vote for Chamisa in the presidential election but they preferred other opposition candidates in the parliamentary race. For example, Chamisa won Goromonzi West with a 6,187 majority. However, the ZANU-PF candidate Energy Mutodi won the parliamentary race with 12,384 votes against the MDC Alliance's candidate Taurai Nhamburo who got 10,274 votes. This happened because some of the opposition votes went to another MDC-Alliance candidate former Morgan Tsvangirai spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka who took 6,691 votes. A combined effort by the opposition (16,965) would have easiely defeated ZANU-PF.

Seke (not to be confused with Seke, Chitungwiza) in Manyame Rural District is another seat that was lost by the opposition due to split voting. Chamisa beat President Mnangagwa in the presidential race by 20,322 votes to 16,047 respectively. However, in the parliamentary election, ZANU-PF candidate Munyaradzi Kashambe cruised past to victory with 18,050 against MDC Alliance's candidate Tawineyi Kunaka who had 16,369 votes. But several other opposition candidates had a combined total of over 2,400. A combined effort by opposition candidates would have defeated the ZANU-PF candidate with a majority of at least 600 votes, which was however, way below the majority that Chamisa had against Mnangagwa. Another lost seat is Murehwa South and could have been won by the opposition if the opposition parties had agreed to field a single candidate against ZANU-PF. Candidates of the MDC Alliance Jeremy Chawora and an independent candidate Noah Mangondo had 10,653 and 1,821 respectively, a total of 12,474 votes between them. By contrast, the ZANU-PF candidate Biggie Joel Matiza who won had 10,808 votes. In 2022, Murehwa South was a subject of a by-election - l will not dwell much into the result because voter turnout is usually lower at by-election. However, in the presidential election, Mnangagwa was well comfortable with 18,325 to Chamisa's 4,824 votes. Now that Noah Mangondo won ZANU-PF primary election to represent the party in the imminent general election, it has become even more difficult for the opposition to win the seat unless the other 10, 808 voters who ensured Matiza won in 2018 shift political preferences .

The point to underscore here is that anyone hunting for latent signs of vote spliting will find tonnes of evidence of it at parliamentary level. The opposition MDC-Alliance had scope to do better were it not for vote spliting. To put it into pespective, an analysis of 2018 parliamentary election indicate MDC-Alliance to MDC-Alliance and MDC-Alliance to MDC-T vote spliting by province as follows: Harare-39,820 , Bulawayo- 21,890, Manicaland- 12,327, Mashonaland Central-9,220, Mashonaland East-15,525, Mashonaland West-8,751, Masvingo- 11,025, Midlands- 4,865, Matabeleland North- 26, 124 and Matabeleland South- 11,314. As a result, the MDC-Alliance may have lost a whooping160,861 votes enough to have awarded MDC-Alliance at least three additional MPs from the pool of 60 Women Quota allocation that would have effectively stalled a ZANU-PF two-third majority bid in the National Assembly (+/- the Chegutu West debacle).

A chilling reminder of the far reaching implications of the catastrophic escalation in the weaponisation of two-third majority (at least 180 MPs soon to be 186) in the current National Assembly was when ZANU-PF essentially decided to use its near unchecked power to make amendments to the Constitution using the infamous Constitutional Amendment Act Number 2 that will effectively increase representation in an already bloated parliament from 350 to 360 MPs and Senators after an additional 10 youth quota MPs, one from each province and an additional 30 percent women councillors for each rural and urban authority through proportional representation-including giving the president sweeping new powers to extend the terms of Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges past their retirement age of 70 (to 75 years). The gender patity in parliament could have been easiely resolved by an amendment that would have required political parties to reserve a percentage of the 210 seats for youth and women candidates at a general election. However, this should start with funding projects that aim to reform the way women and youth in politics climb career ladders, improving their access to opportunities and decision-making influence. The idea is that a broader and more equitable range of voices in parliament, council and government equals more ideas, which betters democracy.

Let me now turn to the three key electoral questions that are necessary to unpack with respect to the effects of new electoral boundaries in selected constituencies in Mashonaland East. First, which are some of the constituencies in Mashonaland East that may have be significantly changed, possibly turning from safe ZANU-PF seats to swing/marginal ones, harder for ZANU-PF politicians to hold on to? This question has become important because reorganisation or delimitation of boundaries has proven time and time again that in some cases it can produce the most "elite and coveted items on the market," which can either make a ward or constituency safe or swing/marginal for political parties and candidates. Somehow, the hope is that shifting voters from one ward or constituency to the next can lead to a conclusion that more often than not it neutralise votes - resulting in swing wards or constituencies very difficult for the incumbent party to hold on to - the changes in Goromonzi North, Goromonzi West, Marondera West and Seke constituencies alongside Marondera Central are so glaring with evidence pointing to a possible swing affair.

Going forward, these five constituencies are home to targeted National Assembly race in Mashonaland East - in particular will play a significant role in deciding the balance of the National Assembly and Senate and shaping the map of the CCC and ZANU-PF. In Goromonzi district there has been major shake-up across the three constituencies namely Goromonzi North, Goromonzi South and Goromonzi West. However, Goromonzi South remain an opposition safe seat. In the 2018 general election, ZANU-PF won North and West with MDC-Alliance settling for South. As alluded to earlier, MDC-Alliance lost Goromonzi West seat because of spliting of votes. The presidential election was an interesting affair with Chamisa winning in both Goromonzi South and Goromonzi West managing 39,689 to Mnangagwa's 21,593 and 19,178 against Mnangagwa's 12,991 respectively. In Goromonzi North, Chamisa narrowly lost to Mnangagwa by 12,583 votes to 11,064. Once the new boundaries come into effect in February, it became perfectly clear that Goromonzi South had to wean off Ruwa (Central) that is now a separate constituency that can easiely be won by the CCC however, the motive that Goromonzi North and Goromonzi West are safe constituencies may no longer operate, and the voting distributions of the three constituencies would differ. Using detailed data on general election in the three constituencies in 2008, 2013, and 2018 as well as a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, we find that voting patterns in the three constituencies were indeed very similar before the new boundaries but may be strikingly different afterwards because of the major movements effected by the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) delimitation report, with a possible relative shift in Goromonzi North towards its inherent political preferences -literally showing swing characteristics in the two constituencies. These findings are reasonably robust in that they continue to hold after controlling for other confounding factors and survive several sensitivity tests.

If you look at Seke (not to be confused with Seke,Chitungwiza) constituency, if you look at the population shifts in Seke, Seke is even more urban than it was, there are much fewer rural votes. No wonder ZEC in its delimitation report stated that Seke has changed from being a communal area to a "urban/peri-urban area" - you would expect a decrease of ZANU-PF votes. That's not a function of gerrymandering. That is a function of the number of people there, their partisan proclivities. Hence, what does this mean for the yellow wave? First let's put this into perspective.Seke constituency had 52, 132 registered voters as of 30 May 2022. In order to conform to the threshold that ensure that each person's vote is of similar value by equalising the number of registered voters in each constituency to within 20 percent variance with ZEC setting the maximum registered voter threshold of 33 169 and a minimum threshold of 22 112 voters for each constituency. ZEC had to move some of the voters from Seke to Chikomba West and Marondera West.

As a result, Seke ward 8, one of the biggest MDC-T or MDC-Alliance support base before the delimitation - the net effect of this redistribution is that ward 8, Seke Constituency was collapsed and four new wards were created namely ward 8, 17, 18 and 19. Evidence from voting patterns suggest that in 2008, 2013 and 2018, ward 8 voted overwhelmingly for MDC-T or MDC-Alliance. Now that the ward has been reorganised into four wards 8, 17, 18, and 19 -Ward 8 is under Seke constituency while the rest have been transferred to Marondera West which has a rich history of closer and shifting of conformity of an electorate's political preferences. Upon critical reflection, it may very well be that voters will carry their political preferences to their new wards and constituencies.

In the circumstances, we are aware from evidence that the reorganised Seke constituency has been left vulnerable to CCC takeover. The reconfigured wards 9, 10 that include Nyatsime housing scheme (adjacent to Chitungwiza) part of old ward 12 which energised a ZANU-PF parliamentary victory in 2018 have also be moved to Marondera West. Elsewhere, we know from evidence that ward 1 which has be subdivided into wards 1, 2, 3 ,and parts of wards 4 and 5 around Dema area along the Harare / Wedza road voted resoundingly for MDC- Alliance in 2018.

Using socio-economic composition and traditional voting patterns, we can only conclude that reorganisation of Seke constituency may have pushed it towards a ultra-swing trajectory with its population more inclined to opposition politics. These are exciting times!

Meanwhile in Marondera West an general election is imminent as there was a massive transfer of voters from Seke. We should bear in mind that in 2018 Marondera West constituency voted for Spiwe Elizabeth Mukunyaidze of ZANU-PF getting 7,619 against Amon Maisvoreva of MDC-Alliance who managed to 5,400 votes. However, what most people do not know is that Marondera West quitely wrote a piece of history of their on in the presidential election with Chamisa narrowly defeating Mnangagwa by 7,034 votes to 7,016 ballots making it the most marginal presidential election result in the country held by only 18 votes. However, with a re-match between Chamisa and Mnangagwa imminent, the presidential race in Marondera West is supposed to be one of the marquee races in the country this year.

Turning to Marondera Central. l have always kept an eagle eye on this constituency for the simply reason that it is a 'swingy'. Whether the voters in Marondera Central believes this or not is unknown, but the fact that they are so willing to switch sides means any the seat can go either way at will. The seat was established in 2008 during the Tsvangirai era. MDC-T won the seat that same year before ZANU-PF mounted a stunning major comeback in 2013. With confidence in abundance - in fact, in nothing short of an apparent act of defiance, the MDC-Alliance in the 2018 general election engineered a dramatic takeover of the constituency that delivered a double victory that so Caston Matewu beat ZANU-PF's candidate Cleopas Kundiona by 14,604 to 8,386 respectively. In the presidential election result, Chamisa carried the constituency by 16,772 votes to Mnangagwa's 7,473 - sending the constituency beyond the scintillating boundaries effectively making it one of the most 'swingy' seat in the eastern embackment and argubly in Zimbabwe.

To the second electoral question, how important is voter turnout in swing constituencies? The "swing voter" occupies a cherished place in Zimbabwean political lore. Candidates court swing voters, political party strategists target them, and pundits speculate on were their vote is on. Political parties will have to rally existing structures to mobilise a high turnout in these areas, and devoting more of their attention to these key battlegrounds. In other words, what is important is to win over the undecideds and potential swing voters, and at maximising the turnout of their supporters. Evidence shows that vote share also tends to shift more than turnout from election to election. But back in the ZANU-PF strongholds, the possible swing seats offers a precautionary tale of what can happen to the CCC if swing voters switch are not reversed. Furthermore, much will depend on whether the opposition, the CCC in particular manage to avoid vote spliting. In fact, it is difficult to understand what motivated this sudden need to field double candidates. Whether such measures can turn the tide, in urban or rural constituencies, remains to be seen.

To answer the third electoral question, in terms of recent voting patterns which political party can win these seats? Political scientists and strategists alike usually find far more meaning in elections that deliver resounding change than those that reconfirm the status quo. Yet it will send a powerful message if the CCC can break through the forces that have left the National Assembly very much unbalanced. It will show that the two sides remain locked in a grinding trench warfare where neither can overwhelm the other's defenses and the handful of swing constituencies in the no-man's land. As a result, a swing election will come down to two important questions: Who actually votes, and who do they vote for? It therefore becames incredibly hard to predict a swing constituency.

In the presidential election,Mnangagwa can still pile up a vote haul in Mashonaland East's extensive rural areas large enough to overcome Chamisa's improvement in the urban/peri-urban's areas. In ZANU-PF safe constituencies such as Maramba Pfungwe and Uzimba where we have witnessed up to 20,000 voters showing up at recent primary elections in both constituencues. What was particularly stunning is the way voters literally tried to mimick the 2018 election results of 24,317 to MDC's Alliance's 919 votes in Maramba Pfungwe and 21,405 against MDC-Alliance's 1,850 votes in Uzumba. The only inference we can draw is that voters in deep- ZANU-PF 'strongholds' of Maramba Pfungwe and Uzumba have shown us solid figures and delivered a loud warning shot to the CCC across the country, signaling that the ruling party has the potential to energise ('if not intimidate') voters who the opposition had hoped would switch sides. ZANU-PF is likely to use the primary vote to try to build momentum and depict the CCC as out of step with low-end population, especially small and medium-size enterprises as well as farmers

Perhaps, the only feasible way around this huge turnout in the presidential election is for the CCC to be prepared for the inevitable reality in ZANU-PF very safe seats where Chamisa has to offset Mnangagwa's otherwise much stronger performance in rural areas, as well as Mnangagwa's possible slight improvement in the cities of Bulawayo and Harare proper. But, by narrowing his deficit with rural voters in addition to once again running up huge margins in more urban/peri-urban parts of the province, Chamisa can manage to win a larger share of Mashonaland East's vote than he did in 2018. However, this can only depend on which strategy the CCC employ, whether they work on changing the vote margin or try changing turnout in their very safe seats such as Goromonzi South so as to relive the 2018 general election where voters showed unbelievable character posting an impressive 39,689 votes (second highest total in 2018 presidential election after Harare South) to Mnangagwa's 21,593 votes. The new Ruwa Central constituency weaned off from Goromonzi South should also remain engaged, willing to rise to the occasion and increase the presidential vote and help offset losses from ZANU-PF safe seats. In other words, the CCC need an improbable near-perfect run through safe and possible swing seats to upset ZANU-PF. As alluded earlier, this also depends political will within the CCC to put in place mechanisms that discourage spliting of votes.

Farai Chirimumimba is a freelance journalist -Democracy, Elections and Gender issues

Source - Farai Chirimumimba
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