The reason behind the high voter turnout at the March 16 referendum in Zimbabwe

zimraysI note with interest a recently published post-referendum report by the Election Resource Centre entitled:  “‘Miracle Votes’ – An analysis of the March 2013 Referendum.”  The reported objective of the document, authored by Sokwanele, is “to interrogate and analyse the voter behavior that influenced the relatively high voter turnout’ in this poll.”

In this report, the author argues that the high voter turnout can arguably be attributed to “coercive capacities of the political parties, especially ZANU PF to drive out their supporters in a systematic manner to vote in a block (sic).” The author advises that “such coercive and intimidatory practices could be replicated in the next elections.”

Now Sokwanele should know better.  First of all, it makes no sense to say that a party intimidates or coerces its own supporters; after all, people join a party voluntarily, and therefore, they voluntarily subscribe to their chosen party’s directives. In the case of the referendum, the main political parties (ZANU PF and MDC-T) both directed their supporters to vote ‘yes’.

Secondly, from a research perspective, Sokwanele should be familiar with Simon Schwartzman’s 1968 work entitled: Voting Behavior and Elections, where Schwartzman contends 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.” In fact, central to Schwartzman’s analysis is that at any given election, the electorate consists of the following sub-groups:

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. (S)he has a moderate knowledge of politics and votes consistently.

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

It is therefore inadequate, Sokwanele, to say that the high voter turnout is owing to “women (who constitute the majority of voters)” and “the youth vote.” Essentially, women and youth voters are not homogenous groups, and are in fact interspersed between the aforementioned categories.

Furthermore, if Schwartzman’s analysis that “feelings of instability… or actual drops in the standard of life can lead to active political participation” is anything to go by, then it explains the high voter turnout in the hyperinflationary and politically turbulent environment that characterized the March 2008 elections, and would consequently mean that the relatively stable socio-economic circumstances surrounding the March 2013 referendum should have resulted in a lower voter turnout than in March 2008. Yet, the March 2013 poll had the highest voter turnout since 1980; why is that?

This brings me to the point of concientization, or what the Election Resource Centre refers to as “political party canvasing.” It is common knowledge that the parties to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) (ZANU PF, MDC-T, MDC-M/N) agreed to the Kariba draft in 2007. After the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009, the Kariba draft was set aside for a more ‘people driven’ constitution. As a result, a constitutional outreach programme has been in effect over the last four years, culminating in the draft which was endorsed on March 16 2013.

Now, over the last four years, the parties to the GPA  have had the time and opportunity to re-engage their grassroots and concientize them with respect to the constitution. This concurrently became an opportunity for the parties to educate the masses on the party positions with respect to key political, social and policy issues. At the same term it served as an opportunity to criticize conflicting positions held by other parties and to re-engage (potential) party members, especially those (in the case of ZANU-PF)  who were disoriented with party policy at the 2008 poll. In summary, this means that over the four-year period during which the constitutional outreach took place, political parties had the time to reorganize, regroup, and re-conscientize their supporters who consequently participated in the poll en-bloc. The same high levels of voter turnout can therefore be expected  in the harmonized elections later this year.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director