Democracy & the curse of the divided vote

    This article appears on Hopewell Chin’ono Facebook page and is published here with his permission. 

    Democracy as practiced in the west and how it is understood in the South, seems to mean all sorts of different things to different people.

    By Hopewell Chin’ono 

    In the US, they have a two-horse race presidential system, in the United Kingdom they have a well defined three party system with only Labour and the Conservatives assured of running the country.

    The other parties are regional and inconsequential to the national electoral race for Number 10, the Prime Minister’s residence. They stand NO chance of ever governing the country except for Labour and the Conservatives.

    These are established democracies which unlike us here in Zimbabwe, haven’t been struggling to agree on an acceptable way of conducting elections and accepting the electoral outcomes without acrimony.

    Election results are always a contested issue in Zimbabwe and Africa in general.

    Here in Zimbabwe, elections have been a concerted fight against the ruling party which has been retaining power through electoral fraud, violence, intimidation and vote buying since 2000.
    However, these things have been located, characterized and put squarely on Robert Mugabe’s door as the Commander in Chief and the man who ran an imperial presidency.

    He has been able to do this because he had an efficient team around himself which included those in the current government and the G40.

    How will the electorate respond to a ZANUPF without Robert Mugabe is the main question which will soon be addressed by the electorate themselves.

    So the exact outcome of the forthcoming election is unknown yet, more so because the analytical work has been bogged down into partisan narratives and dishonest insights.
    What is known is that the party to beat is still the ruling ZANUPF because of its power of incumbency and an assortment of state control mechanisms such as the military and its state security cousins.

    These institutions were built out of the party’s liberation war structures and they remain loyal to the party first and government thereafter.

    That is why General Constantino Chiwenga’s address at the military academy on November 13, spoke about the need to stop the internecine factional fights in ZANUPF.

    He wouldn’t have been bothered had it been Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe fighting because he has not emotional ties to the MDCT but to ZANUPF.

    So this is a reality that we will live with until the liberation generation is no longer with us.
    We can shout and sing all we want about how it’s unprofessional, but that is the reality we live with, a reality that manifested itself in all African countries that had liberation movements with military wings.

    ZANUPF also has a loyal social base which it nurses quietly away from the metropolitan with food and agricultural inputs.

    This support base genuinely supports ZANUPF and will defend its principles all day long.
    They support ZANUPF and not individual leaders.

    The logical thing to do for those opposed to ZANUPF would have been to build a coalition of disgruntled opposition parties to face off with the ruling party, surprisingly this has not been the case.
    Zimbabawe now has more than 117 political parties with their own presidential candidates.

    What is motivating all these people to go it alone as opposed to forming a coalition of one purpose?

    I have failed to understand why all these political parties would all say that ZANUPF is bad and yet they fail to unite and fight against the “bad” guy.

    The field has been additionally crowded with the advent of the “popular” social media independent candidate, all these people are saying that they are fighting ZANUPF and presumably having their own little social bases tucked away somewhere.

    How then can ZANUPF lose an election when all it’s enemies are fighting independent electoral battles against one entity, the party of government?

    To what extent are all these players who are up against ZANUPF actually fighting their own selfish battles?

    We are reminded that in a democracy, anyone is free to run for office. But to what extent does that tenet clash with the ultimate goal of these 117 plus parties? The goal of defeating the ruling party.

    I have often been told that it is undemocratic to stop people from running for office even if that participation will contribute to the death of the ideals that are driving them to run for office in the first instance.

    Joice Mujuru, Nelson Chamisa, Ambrose Mutinhiri, Nkosana Moyo, Noah Manyika, Thokozani Khupe and the beat goes on…..all these people wanting to remove Emmerson Mnangagwa and expecting to do it successfully and yet separately?

    This to me shows that a lot of them are driven by personal interest rather than national imperatives.

    If a person would rather be Number 1 and yet lose the election than be number 4 and win it, then that person is dangerous, selfish and shouldn’t be receiving any votes at all.

    What is the point of voting for someone who stands NO chance of winning, rendering your vote irrelevant?

    The voter who does so is equally an irresponsible citizen because they refuse to have their vote count and matter, holding on to ridiculous, academic and utopian democracy arguments.

    Zimbabawe needs a strong opposition party or alliance in parliament. An opposition that will be able to hold the government of the day to account for its commissions and omissions.

    That will not happen when we have 116 parties contesting the ruling party for the same seats.

    The selfish and egoistic DNA within our politics is what will kill democracy in this country and not entirely ZANUPF.

    ZANUPF’s rule will be sustained by this unbridled lust for power by all these briefcase, independents and fly by night electoral candidates.

    Whenever someone is kicked out of ZANUPF or the MDC, their default position is to form a political party, instead of working with the existing political party framework and making it better.

    Everyone wants to be a president and be saluted and fly around the world. Huge delusions of grandeur that have killed the establishment of a working democracy.

    An ideal team to take on ZANUPF would have been Nelson Chamisa with Nkosana Moyo.
    Nelson Chamisa has a huge social base and Nkosana Moyo has the keys to the international financial institutions and the gravitas needed for a statesman coupled with the intellectual capacity to run a government.

    The Fadzai Maheres,Noah Manyikas, Evan Mawarires and Shingi Munyezas would have been fitted into the wheel and when that is done, you have a solid and attractive opposition worth talking about.

    Unfortunately, all these good people will not win anything at the next general election because of their failure to strategize.

    This is not only an opinion, the empirical data from Matebeleland South shows that had the two MDCs fought the election as one, ZANUPF would have lost in 6 constituencies in that province alone.

    The two MDCs put together had a higher vote than ZANUPF in Mangwe, Bulilima West, Matobo North, Umzingwane, Gwanda South, Matobo South. However they lost to ZANUPF candidates because they split the vote.

    That vote would also have been split on the presidential candidates giving the ruling party a leg up.

    This year the opposition will invariably suffer more because the field has stronger presidential candidates.

    Unless this business of fielding hundreds of candidates is stopped, the idea of removing ZANUPF from power will remain a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.

    • Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March. He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope

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