Unpacking the March 26 By-Election: Focusing on Epworth and Harare East Constituencies

Introduction

The 1968 work by Simon Schwartzman (University of California, Berkeley Department of Political Science) on voting behavior and elections refers.

In that analysis, Schwartzman points out that “man is a social being, and as such he always participates in social life. But this participation is not constant: the intensity and types of participation are relevant variables in political analysis.”

He goes further to highlight that at any given time the electorate consists of the following subgroups:

a) The nonvoter that does not care about politics.

b) The stable voter whose vote is partisan and constant.

c) The unstable voter who cares little about politics and votes erratically.

d) The stable voter with high level of information. She or he has a moderate knowledge of politics and votes consistently.

e) The highly informed unstable voter, who makes his own decision at each moment.

The 35 % low voter turnout that characterized the March 26 by election, can be concluded to mean that the election largely involved the (b) (d) and (e) categories of voters.

However, interestingly CCCs victory in Harare East and ZANU-PFs victory in Epworth speak volumes about two particular political practices relevant to both the CCC and ZANU-PF as we approach the 2023 harmonized elections.

These are 1) Strong Political Candidature and 2) Political Party Structures.

  1. Strong Political Candidature

The CCC won Harare East, and ZANU-PF won Epworth. It goes without saying that in both those constituencies the parties fielded strong candidates whose professional and personal profiles are appealing to the electorate.

On the one hand Tendai Biti is a professional who not only lives in Harare East but also over the years he has been vocal about corruption and other issues that middle class professionals discuss at their dinner tables almost every day.

Furthermore, during Tendai Biti’s tenure as finance minister (2009-2013) the common perception is that he bettered the lives of civil-servants in particular and Zimbabwean citizens as in general by dollarizing the economy and implementing the ‘eat-what-you-kill’ fiscus management policy.

By the time he ended his tenure as finance minister, the average civil servant was earning around five hundred United States dollar every month.

With that kind of a background, it is not surprising that Tendai Biti won resoundingly at polling stations where prison and police officers in Harare East voted.

His political profile alongside his personal brand was too strong for his opponent… drawing me to the conclusion that come 2023 wherever a candidate in a constituency has an average/weak or controversial political and personal profile, he/she will never be able to outwit an opponent with strong candidature.

This proved to be true too in Epworth.  Zalerah Makari is an educated professional who has worked and lived in and outside of Zimbabwe.

She won the Epworth constituency seat in the 2015 by-elections after she spearheaded several developmental projects in Epworth.

Nevertheless, despite her obvious popularity in that constituency, she was barred from contesting for the seat in the 2018 elections on a ZANU-PF ticket on the basis of “G-40” allegations.

What followed was that a weaker candidate contested for the seat on behalf of ZANU-PF in 2018 and that candidate subsequently lost the seat to an opposition candidate.

Again, this points to the fact that parties must focus on strong candidature in every constituency and ward across the country.

For the CCC this would mean making sure their strongest political profiles are placed at the forefront of candidacy in any particular region despite their past political transgressions (as is the case of Thokozane Khupe in Matebeleland).

For ZANU-PF, this would mean putting aside all regional, tribal or factional differences that have plagued the party since 2013 and allow the best candidates to stand in any given constituency- irrespective of whether the candidate is previously ‘gamatox’ (mai Mujuru faction) or ‘G-40’ (Mugabe faction).

Again, Judging from Harare East and Epworth the logic is simple: A weak candidate stands no chance against a strong candidate; i.e.: an individual with a string political profile and personal brand.

2) Political Party Structures

Let’s take ZANU-PF as the example. That party has defined structures with defined leadership positions at every level alongside a definitive organizational constitution.

Furthermore in ZANU-PF, every province is divided into zones and localized into districts; and in every district the party has branches and cells.

What this means is that whenever ZANU-PF goes on a mass recruitment drive, it does not rely solely on sentiment and sympathy as is the case currently with CCC.

In fact when ZANU-PF recruits, it accounts for each new member by documenting the member within its structures at cell, branch, district or provincial levels, meaning that come election time, the party is able to make a calculated estimation of the number of votes it will attain within a constituency or ward based upon the membership within its structures.

It’s in this context that ZANU-PFs declaration to attain 5 million votes in 2023 should be taken seriously.

Of course this is not an exact science, because whenever the party puts forward an controversial, average or weak candidate for an election at ward or constituency levels (as was the case in many parts of Harare including Harare East on March 26) the structures in that area become paralyzed or divided even, and apathy will prevail, which then gives advantage to the opposition, as long as the opposition put forward a strong candidate.

What’s interesting however, is the Epworth case, where ZANU-PF fielded a strong candidate in the form of Zalerah Makari.

As previously mentioned, she is strong candidate who is admired within the party structures in that area.

Consequently, she was able to energise the structures within the constituency, and mobilised them to go out and vote for ZANU-PF en-mass.

The outcome was her winning Epworth constituency for ZANU-PF with 10 248 votes against the CCC’s 8283, demonstrating again, that good candidature coupled with strong party structures will win the day in any given constituency.

This is a fact that both ZANU-PF and CCC should consider as we approach 2023.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

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