Zanu PF’s landslide election ‘victory’ was probably at least partly the result of five years hard campaigning for new voters, as there is still no proof of rigging, according to a report from the Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT).
Respected academic, Brian Raftopoulos’s analysis in SPT’s election report, describes how Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party overcame losses at the 2008 elections.
Coercion and handing out material benefits to voters helped the party gain an astonishing 1 m more votes in the July 31 polls.
Raftopoulos’ analysis, released on Friday, includes number crunching of voter turnout and comparisons with previous elections since 2000 when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), became the first political party to really challenge Zanu PF’s power.
Statistics show that the MDC’s support is as it was in 2008 when it narrowly beat Zanu PF and has been relatively static ever since it burst onto the political scene late 1999.
Raftopoulos says the “long history of authoritarian nationalism and state (Zanu PF) brutality continues to play a major…role in the country’s politics.”
But, Raftopoulos also argues, Mugabe and Zanu PF not only retained a “substantial social base” in this year’s election, from “ideological legacies” but also attracted further support from its ‘land reform’ programme which began in 2000 and saw about 200 000 poor families receive land taken, often violently, from white farmers.
He also says that Zanu PF’s won substantial extra support in the same period from the rapid growth of the informal mining sector.
“As the economic situation worsened, (post 2000) the party-state patronage system became more entrenched.”
Zanu PF’s so-called “indigenisation and empowerment policy” also informed voters that supporting Zanu PF was “the single most important criterion for access to state mediated economic opportunities. The party manifests itself as a localised capitalist oligarchy……”
Raftopoulos says there were violations of electoral law before and during elections.
And Zanu PF “systematically blocked central reforms” of the Global Political Agreement, (GPA) signed by Zanu PF and the two MDC parties after the previous violent elections in 2008.
“Even as ZANU PF largely kept the energies of the MDCs concentrated on the single issue of constitutional reform, the former concentrated its activities on election preparations…”
Zanu PF, which controlled all the security ministries in the inclusive government which emerged after the GPA was signed, harassed MDC and civil society documenting human rights violations and supporting victims. Zanu PF also interfered with NGO’s working on voter registration.
SPT notes in the report that almost 25 percent of extraordinarily high voter turnout in the July 31 election was in Zanu PF stronghold constituencies.
While an average of nearly eight percent of voters were turned away and could not vote across the country, SPT’s numbers show double that number were unable to vote in the MDC’s Harare strongholds.
While the numbers for voters requiring assistance to vote were generally below illiteracy rates, “the devil is in the detail,” the SPT says. “There are convincing reports of fully literate individuals forced to declare themselves illiterate and vote with assistance of known ZANU PF supporters.
“Election results since 2000 show some recognisable, if depressing, trends,” SPT says.
Votes for Tsvangirai’s MDC “remained remarkably consistent” over the last decade. The ZANU PF vote has generally, with the exception of 2008, been several hundred thousand votes more than the opposition vote.
“The leap in one million votes for ZANU PF is hard to explain between 2008 and 2013 – but is more believable when seen as (only) 27% higher than their 2002 vote.
SPT says it couldn’t establish whether the massive increase in the number of voters in many Zanu PF strongholds were ‘irregularities’ as the MDC claims, or whether this was a result, as Zanu PF claims,of its energetic voter registration campaign over the last five years.
SPT, like other analysts was unable to find proof of rigging.
However it does say systematic disenfranchisement of Harare voters, combined with the busing in of rural voters indicates attempts to hijack these constituencies for Zanu PF.
SPT mentions Israeli company, Nikuv, which The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper revealed was secretly paid by the pro Zanu PF registrar-general for undisclosed work on the voters roll. The paper said Nikuv had been working on the roll for about the last 20 years with no one able to discover what work it did and why it could not be done by Zimbabweans.
SPT says because the electronic version of the voters roll was illegally withheld from the MDC, and was still not available, it can make no finding on whether election results reflect the will of the people.
But, SPT says, the failure of the anti Zanu PF parties to form an election pact split the vote and cost them control of two Matabeleland provinces, south and north, which they controlled since 2000.
And SPT says present voter statistics show dramatically that three western provinces, Matabeleland South, North and Bulawayo, were effected “by diasporisation” as many registered to vote were no longer resident in the constituencies.
As results emerged less than 24 hours after voting ended, some Zimbabwe NGO’s claimed that the MDC’s loss of the Matabeleland South province to Zanu PF – where Zanu PF killed thousands after independence – was proof that the vote was rigged.
That is what much of the world’s media reported at that time, but statistics tell another story, that the loss of the province was a result of split votes, not rigging.
Seventeen parliamentary seats were lost to Zanu PF via the split vote. If MDC had won those seats, Zanu PF’s two-thirds majority would be reduced to only one seat, so Zanu PF would have to ensure all its MP’s were in the house if it wanted to change the constitution with the necessary two-thirds majority.
SPT says Zanu PF holds 79 percent of all seats.
The MDC now controls only two out of ten provinces. In 2008 it controlled six.
The MDC’s most dramatic losses were in two provinces, Manicaland in the east, which it formerly controlled overwhelmingly, and central province, Masvingo. These two provinces voted convincingly for Zanu PF with no dramatic increase in voter turnout in Masvingo.
The future looks even bleaker for the MDC in future presidential elections, SPT says.
The MDC’s support base is concentrated in Zimbabwe’s three western provinces and low voter turnout there means it will be difficult to defeat any future Zanu PF presidential candidate.
That’s because “three times as many voters in three rural Mashonaland provinces which are Zanu PF strongholds, compared to the three Matabeleland provinces.”
It is unclear how many people would vote for the MDC if the environment was fair and free from intimidation, if the “harvest of fear” – memories of Zanu PF horrendous violence in 2008 elections - was not there, or if hundreds of thousands of voters now in the diaspora were enfranchised.
But it says it’s unlikely anything will change before elections in 2018.
SPT says the democratic movement must rebuild and engage with a “dynamic and changing” electorate, particularly in rural areas, resettled areas and the informal mining sector.
The priority for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which mediated Zimbabwe’s progress towards the 2013 elections, was “stabilisation not democratisation,” says Raftopoulos.
“SADC settled for minimal electoral reforms and a new constitution and the absence of levels of violence that marred the 2008 elections…..Zuma blinked …and SADC took what can only be described as a supine position on the electoral outcome.”
This story first appeared in the Sunday Independent [South Africa], October 6, 2013, p. 10, and is reprinted here with slight edits and with the permission of the author.
Peta Thornycroft is a freelance reporter based in South Africa who has covered Zimbabwean political and economic news for many years.