Reimagining politics: MDC needs to rethink by-elections strategy

Candour Nqaba Matshazi

An inquest was inevitable following the opposition MDC’s loss in the weekend by-elections, particularly the Lupane East constituency, with finger-pointing predictably being the order of the day. For many, it is beyond belief how the MDC lost elections at a time when Zanu PF is doing a “spectacular” job of mismanaging the economy.

Others argue that Zanu PF continues to win elections because it is in touch with the rural populace and that the MDC is elitist and out of touch.

Those in that school of thought off-handedly dismiss allegations of rigging, vote-buying and intimidation, accusing the MDC of being a crybaby, with no plan on
how to win elections.

Most of these debates are simplistic and lack a nuanced breakdown of why Zanu PF continues to win, even when everything is topsy-turvy in the country.

It does not help that, as a country, we have taken an anti-intellectual stance to understanding anything that happens in the nation.

The latest example; when we do not like inflation data, we dispense with it, among other statistics that we may be uncomfortable with, a point that George
Charamba, writing as Nathaniel Manheru, bemoaned, arguing that Zimbabwe was a numerate nation that cannot count.

Charamba agonised with this, concluding that as a nation, we are “unable to encompass, digest and summarise the journey we have travelled so far, and the time
we have lived to [the] here and now.

“Goalless because if it had been otherwise, our set goals would, in turn, have tested and even benchmarked how we have fared so far, how we hope to fare and
what promises our present circumstances hold for us as we pursue future ventures.”

So, taking this argument further, I pose a question for the opposition: How does it expect to win elections, when there is barely an audit on why it fared
badly in past by-elections?

I am yet to hear of the party carrying out research to understand what the voters’ concerns are and why it continues to lose these polls. Zanu PF also has not
done any studies. We can forgive them, however, for this complacency, because it is to their benefit.

Even our academia seems resigned to the fact that Zanu PF will sweep rural areas and leave the urban areas to the opposition, but with little academic data —
qualitative or quantitative — to explain this phenomenon.

So, in the absence of data that explains why Zanu PF continues to hurt the MDC in rural areas, I will try to explain why this happens, dangerous as it may be;
it has to be done. The biggest problem we have as a country is to treat elections as a one-day event or at least as a three-month process; that is after a date
for a poll has been proclaimed. By doing this, we concentrate more on the process of voting, rather than the whole electoral cycle.

Let me give an example here: Always towards an election, the opposition starts talking about voter registration and auditing the voters’ register.

There is little or no campaigning to educate their supporters that voter registration is an ongoing process and that they can register to vote at any time.

Instead, what we see is a last-minute rush towards elections that often leads to frustration and ultimately to some people deciding not to vote.

The MDC, or any other party, should be busy right now, auditing the voters’ roll against last election’s results, with the focus being on what went wrong in
the last polls and how it can be corrected.

This might look like a futile exercise, as elections are four years away, but it will help shape future election strategies and expose Zanu PF’s rigging
tactics well in advance. Leaving this to 2023 or anytime when we have an election would be leaving it a little too late, with the opposition not having enough time to counter Zanu PF’s strategies.

Right now, the opposition is not very vocal about key reforms such as alignment of media, security and electoral laws to the Constitution, but I bet my last
dollar that towards elections, these will once again be topical issues.

As it is, in most rural areas, the only radio they listen to is ZBC, a patently biased broadcaster, which is failing in its public service mandate, a fact acknowledged by High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire in his June 19, 2019 judgment against the parastatal.

Whatever criticism we have of ZBC, it continues to churn propaganda right throughout the year, giving Zanu PF a massive head-start in elections.

The MDC has been criticised for losing elections when the economy is in flames, but imagine campaigning in an area where ZBC is the only source of news and
they are told daily how well the economy is performing and that Zanu PF continues to bag mega deals.

No matter how untrue this is, a rural person is bombarded daily with this information and by the time an election comes, they have internalised all this
information and are bound to vote for the party they hear about every day.

Let me give a rudimentary example, no matter how much we loathed the Rambai Makashinga jingles, some of us found ourselves singing along to these songs
whenever they were played on radio because they had become a staple diet.

So, if the MDC is serious about elections, then they should be taking every possible step to ensure that they challenge Zanu PF’s stranglehold on ZBC and try
to ensure that the broadcaster is representative and not biased towards the ruling party.

Zanu PF thrives on disinformation, misinformation and ignorance. That is why the party, and by extension the government, were very uncomfortable when some
organisations started distributing radio sets in rural areas.

As a strategy, the opposition should be coming up with means and methods to giving these rural communities alternative information, as sending the party’s
leadership to campaign towards elections is woefully inadequate and is bound to fail. By-elections are also notoriously difficult for the opposition to win
because during national elections, Zanu PF spreads itself thin, but in local elections, intimidation and rigging and vote-buying are localised.

In this instance, locals may sometimes get the feeling that voting and getting over with it could be the best thing to do.

So they do not vote necessarily for the party of their choice, but rather they choose the party they think would bring peace and return their lives to the
normalcy that prevailed before the by-election was called.

I am not discounting rigging, violence or intimidation, but they should be a more nuanced way of understanding the rural voter. Intimidation at most times is
very subtle and there is no way I can say it does not happen.

Traditional leaders, police officers that prowl the area and government officials, such as district administrators, often represent State power that is subtly
used to cow people in rural areas.

As I pointed out, rural by-elections are notoriously very difficult for the opposition, even at its peak, with the late founding MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai
at the helm, the party lost the Insiza South poll to Zanu PF.

So, if the MDC is to win any by-election in the future, research and data have to be at the core of how it conducts itself. Traditional methods of campaigning
and electioneering favour Zanu PF and clearly the opposition is struggling to beat the ruling party at its game.

It is time to disrupt the electioneering process by bringing in innovation.

Source : NewsDay

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