By Blessings Mashaya
On a school gate in the Harare West council elections, a hand-written note details the results of MDC municipal primary elections. The winner, by far, was abstention.
Barely a third of the registered voters in this working class neighbourhood bothered to cast a ballot at the school, which doubled up as a polling station.
The dismal turnout in the primary elections could spell trouble for MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, who boasts that he is confident of winning the general elections.
MDC spokesperson Tabitha Khumalo claimed the low turnout was caused by Zanu PF intimidation tactics.
“The low turnout is as a result of intimidation, we heard such statement from deputy Finance minister (Terrence Mukupe) who said the army will not allow MDC president Nelson Chamisa to lead this country such statements have negative effects in rural areas.
“Obviously the numbers will increase during the harmonised elections but Zanu PF has started to intimidate people across the country. Zanu PF preaches peace and practises violence,” Khumalo said.
Analysts said the MDC must be wary of low voter turnout which characterised their primaries.
“It’s foolhardy to ignore the numbers. The numbers are indicative of a party with more sympathisers than registered members unlike Zanu PF that has more registered members than sympathisers.
“A party is guaranteed of votes and the numbers during voting from its registered members than sympathisers whose allegiance is porous and shifts from time to time,” political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said.
“You can’t bank on sympathisers and a party’s campaign is faulty if it generates millions at rallies and a few hundred registered members participate in primaries.
“This lends credibility to Zanu PF’s ‘dandemutande’ strategy as it recorded big numbers at its primaries. Also since this election is going to be rigged, those poor numbers can make MDC competitor argue with a degree of credibility that the poll was not rigged and MDC had poor showing even based on its primaries.
“Current divisions in MDC Alliance also don’t help. Poor membership drive had been MDC’s undoing since 2013 when its current president was doing ‘scientific organising’ that had very little membership drive. MDC need to urgently do their own variation of dandemutande membership recruitment drive. Rallies yes, but also membership drive to get assured of committed voters,” he added.
Another political analyst Shakespear Hamauswa said the opposition party must strengthen its structures so that they can mobilise and recruit more supporters ahead of the 2018 elections.
“I think this year, the turnout for MDC was better because previously they used to allow only those in party structures to vote. However, MDC needs to strengthen its structures.
“There is need for a rebirth to its systems and structures through rigorous training of leaders on issues such as voter mobilisation.
“For instance, this year the party allows all card-carrying members to vote but one can find neighbours to an aspiring candidate not even aware that someone within their street is campaigning for a political office.”
Hamauswa said the MDC must investigate what caused the low turnout.
“The low turnout is a result of many factors which require investigations especially by the MDC-T party itself. Some are saying they thought only those in structures will vote as has been the tradition.
“Therefore, the current figures might not lead to concrete conclusions regarding how the party will perform in the coming elections.
“Inferences can, however, be made with regard to cases where the number of total voters was lower than the expected number of those in structures.
“Lastly, voters are always not willing and unable to buy membership cards thereby becoming ineligible to vote. Some they still fear being victimised for being on the list of MDC members. So the factors are multiple,” Hamauswa added.