COLUMN: DR ALEX T. MAGAISA
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
Eliciting reaction from the public makes the whole enterprise of writing worthwhile and not even the most crude of comments can dampen it – it is one of the hazards of the job, which pales into insignificance when one considers the hazards miners and soldiers have to risk in their daily lives.
It is, perhaps, testimony to the traffic generated by the New Zimbabwe.com website and also to the high levels of general interest in the political questions facing the nation.
The provocative character of the article was deliberate. It provided a useful medium to gauge the reaction of the public to the presidential candidates, on the nomination day. The article performed the role very well, eliciting a large number of responses from members of the public.
It certainly did a better job than a simple quantitative poll because most readers gave reasons for their opinions, which provided qualitative substance to their positions. The fact that it was published in the Zimbabwe Independent, meant that reaction was also available to those in Zimbabwe that might not have had access to the website version.
I would, therefore, like to express my gratitude to all those who took their time to read and comment on the article. In writing the article, I, of course, took some risks and I do not harbour any ill-will against those who thought it was biased in favour of Dr Simba Makoni. Of course, I would like to see some unity of purpose in the opposition because I do not think that a divided opposition stands a chance against the wily old fox that Robert Mugabe is.
There were two key indicators that I was looking for in the responses:
First, the reaction towards the Makoni bid for the presidency and to gauge his chances – to what extent could he attract support from the MDC’S traditional base?;
Second, the reaction towards Tsvangirai – to what extent his traditional base still stands by him despite Makoni’s intervention.
The methodology employed is crude and not without its weaknesses, not least the fact that it is restricted to those who have access to the internet and email and also may include those in the Diaspora who will not necessarily vote in the elections. The exclusion of the key rural voters in particular, is a fundamental drawback. I have also taken into consideration the problem that not all readers who had an opinion reacted to the article. This may be because they did not have access to the internet by the time of compilation of the results or they simply agreed or disagreed absolutely that they saw no reason to write back.
Thankfully, some of these weaknesses are mitigated by the qualitative data evidenced by the reasoning provided by respondents. I have also generously assumed that each respondent represents a potential voter, their present location notwithstanding. Having said that, I emphasise that this is purely a rudimentary exercise and is in no way designed to substitute rigorous scientific research.
These weaknesses aside, I like to think that we can still put this rudimentary information to some constructive use.
The bulk of the respondents provided really considered opinions, whose substance and critical basis is highly valued. I will outline some general observations after outlining the results.
• By 12 noon on Sunday February 17, 2008, 61 responses to the article had been received and each expressed an opinion on the candidacy of Makoni or Tsvangirai or simply remained neutral/undecided. The opinions were classified into three categories: the Pro-Makoni, the Pro-Tsvangirai and the Neutral.
• 21 respondents were clearly pro-Tsvangirai, arguing that he should remain the presidential candidate for the MDC even if the opposition remains divided.
• 20 respondents thought that it was a good idea to have Makoni as the sole presidential candidate against Mugabe.
• A further 18 constituted the neutrals or the undecided – they were not sure. These may be referred to as the ‘fence-sitters’ or perhaps the ones carrying the ‘swing vote’.
• Only 2 were unconvinced with either Tsvangirai or Makoni. They saw them as being simply irrelevant as Mugabe was sure to win.
The results show a fine balance between Makoni and Tsvangirai, though the latter seems to have a slight edge. The balance is evident when these quantitative results are considered in the context of the comments from those in the neutrals category.
The neutrals may be undecided on Tsvangirai and Makoni but they are very sure that they would like to vote for the opposition in order to change the face of Zimbabwe’s leadership. They just don’t know whom to vote for at this point because they are confused and they also think many of their countrymen are similarly confused. There is an indication that the Makoni bid has created some uncertainty within the electorate.
They are attracted to Makoni but feel that they have been duped too many times before by Zanu PF to fully entrust him with unqualified allegiance. They feel betrayed by Tsvangirai’s failure to unite the opposition prior to the election. Most of these neutrals have a soft spot for Tsvangirai and could probably vote for him in any event because as one put it ‘at least, he is the devil we know’ and feel they know too little of Makoni to take that risk. There is a commonly held view that Makoni’s bid has come late in the day and that may prove to be his undoing, because especially in the rural areas, he is not well known as compared to Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
The pro-Tsvangirai respondents are very sceptical of Makoni’s intentions. The widespread opinion is that his candidature is part of the Mugabe plot and some go as far as to theorise that he is part of Mbeki’s conspiracy under the cover of ‘Quiet Diplomacy’.
Two theories are prominent in their minds: either that Makoni is meant to divide the urban vote, where he is likely to win some sympathisers or that Makoni will win and give Mugabe a safe exit because he is less likely to take a retributive approach against the current regime.
This group is not convinced by the circumstances of Makoni’s emergence as a presidential candidate and feel that it is him, the new comer who should seek to come under Tsvangirai’s wings and not the other way round. Also in evidence is the mystification of Zanu PF – the typical view that it is far too sophisticated and so powerful that no one can outwit it. Those who claim to be on the ground are also convinced that the majority of the people in the streets support Tsvangirai and not Makoni.
The pro-Makoni respondents have been ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. They feel that he is genuine and are not ready to accept the conspiracy theories. Some of them, however, feel that his timing could have been better and that his chances may be limited because the challenges he has to surmount are many given the lack of time before the elections.
They most likely represent the group that has traditionally been unconvinced by the opposition leadership and, therefore, see a viable alternative in Makoni even though he is untested as an opposition politician. They also claim to be looking at things from a practical viewpoint - and one went as far as to argue that if there is indeed some rigging, it might even benefit Makoni and not Mugabe, assuming that the Makoni group has power over those that traditionally assist Mugabe in elections.
Swing Voters and the One Candidate Policy
Assuming that this small sample can be taken as a rudimentary indicator of the opinions in the country and given the fine balance of support between Makoni and Tsvangirai, a deciding factor will lie with the decision of the swing voters in the currently neutrals group. This is a group that will require work, for Tsvangirai to retain their confidence and for Makoni to demonstrate that he is worthy of their trust. Whoever gets their trust and confidence is more likely to succeed in carrying the opposition vote.
But a crucial point here is that all but two of the respondents are prepared to vote for the opposition candidates. I have taken into account that die-hard Zanu PF supporters did not find good reason to respond to the article and therefore that they are inadequately represented in the sample. Nonetheless, one might discern the fact that if there was one opposition candidate, it is likely that he would earn the bulk of the 59 opposition support. Arguably, a one candidate policy is more likely to achieve the intended objectives.
That, in a nutshell, was the major point of my initial paper. It helped that it was provocative in its suggestion because it drew the needed reaction. It could have been a suggestion for Makoni to sacrifice for Tsvangirai but it is unlikely that it would have drawn the same response. To the extent that it sparked the debate and drew the reactions it did, I stand pleased with the effect of the article.
I must, however, point to some general observations:
First, few probably realise the implications of a four-horse race such as we now have. The Electoral Act states under Section 110 that the winning candidate must get "a majority of the total number of valid votes cast". This simply means that he must get at least 50% plus one of the valid votes cast in the election. If no candidate gets this percentage, there will be another election which must be held within 21 days, in which only the two best candidates of the first round will participate.
If there is a tie in the second round, parliament will be required to sit as an electoral college to decide between the two candidates. This has interesting implications on what might happen. Now, there is a very good chance that Mugabe might come second in the first election but the winning candidate will not get the necessary majority. This would lead to a run-off, between Mugabe and the first winner, a situation that could well be brought forward through a single candidate policy because it is unlikely that the obscure Langton Towungana will get more than a handful of votes to affect the first election. Either way, this election is likely to produce a strange set of results. Zimbabwe could well end up with a President decided not by the people but by Parliament.
Second, one of the unsavoury traits of Mugabe’s followers is that they are generally contemptuous of anything that appears to be anti their leader. Worse, they tend to carry their message in words and deeds that one would not expect of decent people. That is why they restrict media space.
Unfortunately, that trait seems to have crept into opposition circles. Indeed, some are wont to take it upon themselves to get angry on behalf of their leaders, displaying similar traits that they are supposedly fighting against. This is unfortunate.
One Tsvangiari supporter
theorised that I have been promised a post in Makoni’s cabinet
if he wins. Yet another theorised that I have been bought by Tsvangirai
to ‘destroy’ Makoni! Yes, those are some of the absurdities
that conspiracy theorising produces! Tolerance of and respect for free
speech is fundamental if we are to move forward as a society.
is based at Kent Law School, UK and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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