How the 2018 polls will be lost or won

How the 2018 polls will be lost or won
Published: 09 February 2018 (150 Views)
This week's article focusses on an important subject: how the 2018 elections will be won or lost.

Regrettably, but for good reason, I will disappoint a number of my readers who believe in the conventional public campaigns and their persuasive power. First, let us deal with a list of what will not be pivotal in winning this 2018 election. The public rallies whether big or small will not have any effect on the outcome. Actually, to those who are attentive, the incumbents have stated that this time around they will dispense of these rallies.

Secondly the effect of door to door campaigns will also be marginal. Thirdly the media and publicity materials will also have very little contribution to the outcome. The big question then is what will be the game winner? The answer lies in analysing the obvious but least attended to phenomenon that has been unfolding in recent weeks - the collation of registration slips by some political parties and creation of registers euphemistically called "books of life".

As a corollary, it is also important to consider this within the information now in the public domain about the alleged presence of 2 000 embedded commissars in every village in the country. My bold proposition is that "vote buying" in its broad sense, as I will explain, is the single most important factor that deserves full attention for evaluating the 2018 poll credibility by the election observers, election management body, media and the international community.

In the ensuing paragraphs, I will provide an explanation of the phenomenon, where it thrives, the infrastructure and, finally, what could be done to limit its impact. I will undergird my analysis by drawing from giant scholars in the field of electoral clientelism such as Friedrich Charles Schaffer, Simeon Nichter and Susan Stokes.

What is vote buying?

In its simple terms, vote buying is "the payment by political parties of minor benefits (food, clothing, cash) etc to citizens in exchange for their vote'." Recent classification by Simeon Nichter simplifies or rather elaborates the phenomenon by neatly placing it into four categories namely: rewarding loyalists, turnout buying, vote buying and double persuasion.

Rewarding loyalists is the simplest version which sees political parties distributing particularistic goods to their members who ordinarily would vote even without any inducements a reward mechanism. The second aspect of turnout buying is to incentivise supporters who are not motivated to go and cast their votes to actually do so. The third class - vote buying is the inducement of opponents' supporters to switch their votes in favour of the "purchasing" political party.

The fourth category, the double persuasion act, involves inducing opponents' supporters to stay away from casting votes - what others may call apathy buying or opposition tally suppression method. This detailed classification is important to infer how the Zimbabwean case may unfold.

It is critical to note that whereas there is an overarching frame, the context specifics are necessary in understanding the actual way the process works. What is without doubt is that from the definitions given, there are ethical limitations in some of the variations and others are overtly illegal, yet the practice continues in weak democracies like Zimbabwe.

Conditions promoting vote buying

For vote buying to thrive, conditions which include widespread poverty, culture of gift giving and access to large financial and material resources such as but not limited to government largesse must exist. Starting with financial and material resources which are the oil of vote buying, it is in the public domain that the ruling party has in the past used government departments as funding sources for its political programmes.

One out of many examples include the letter written by former Zanu-PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission "vouching" for the use of Zimbabwe Manpower Development funds for party programmes. Some of these programmes included donating bicycles to community leaders, a technique referred to as "purchasing influencers".

Poverty is an important variable for the effectiveness of vote buying. Where people are poor and reliant on handouts, vote buying thrives - like the current situation where the dire economic situation has made donations of rice and other commodities to be the difference between having a meal or going hungry for a number of households.

Finally, the culture of gift giving for election-related activities is entrenching itself, worse with the recent adoption by civil society group of the material inducement phenomenon for people to register to vote. The groups which give people perfumes, tickets to music shows and transport to registration centres have also been drawn into the vortex of turnout buying (a variant of the broad vote buying) and have regrettably lost moral high ground to criticise political parties from doing the same practice, instead this has entrenched the voter inducement to the detriment of democratic practice.

Infrastructure for buying votes

This is the crucial bit. Not everyone can buy enough votes, only those with the capacity to put together a large machine have the ability to reap dividends from this process.

A multi-layered organisation which operates in militaristic and hierarchical discipline is the first imperative for a successful vote buying scheme. Subsidiary conditions for an effective vote-buying machine include solid surveillance, mobilisation of networks of trust, dispensing incentive schemes, having managers with in-depth local knowledge and, most importantly, judicial protection.

I will illustrate this with a practical example. If there is a political party with 2 000 commissars embedded across the country, then it means they have deployed a ward co-ordinator in each of the 1964 administrative wards in Zimbabwe. These are then responsible for superintending over polling station-based coordinators who may number on average not more than 10 per ward, looking at the 2013 polling station figure of 9 735. This means the political machine can reach to the lowest unit without recourse to large rallies.

The machine is able to create village or cell-based registers due to the decentralised network system which then funnels into the district, provincial and national levels. In graphic terms, I presume that reconciling of registration slips is done against an existing register to ascertain the next phase. The current registration figure stands at under 5,3 million hence a machine interested in winning the election can target three million votes to be safe.

Hypothetically speaking and holding demographic and geographic distributions constant, the 2 000 co-ordinators across the country can each target 1 527 voters in their respective wards, translating to 153 voters per village co-ordinator.

Concluding thoughts

The biggest take-away from this article is that real voter data (numbers) matters, in fact it is the only thing which will matter in the forthcoming elections. The rest of the of the components such as rallies and debates are just accompanying noise or "atmospherics".

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has urged the law enforcement agencies to arrest those who force people to surrender their voter slips. He was responding to Glen View North MDC-T legislator Fani Munengami's question in the National Assembly.

So far there have been no arrest. The reason is very simple - there is no complainant. The reason there is no complainant is that, in classic machine politics, it is happening within a somewhat consensual give and take transactional environment where the rewards of compliance are greater than the costs of defaulting and going "rogue". The demand side of deterrence will not cut it.

The only way to stem the structural effects of this practice is to attend to it from the supply side. Strategies may include joint campaigns, effective enforcement of prohibitions and dismantling the entrenched political machine structures. The question one may ask is: what would be the incentive of those who have invested heavily into this machine politics? This is their secret to success.

What would make them give up their "winning" formula? It is only when the matter is given its due attention and the potential rejection of a result that comes from this flawed election tampering is magnified. As Zimbabwe transitions from the Big Man political era, it has to embrace clean politics. In this election, it will not matter who wins, but how they win, hence it is incumbent upon those who have invested in this archaic machine politics to "tear down this wall".

The world should also not only judge this election on aesthetics, on no violence or on media coverage of all political parties-the elephant in the room is the vote buying machine politics which makes a mockery all other components and reduces it to a farcical show.

Ncube is a Chevening Scholar reading elections, campaigns and democracy at the Democracy and Elections Research Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London. -

- the independent

Tags: 2018, Elections, Polls,

You May Like These Videos


There are no comments.

Latest stories

Fake facebook post claims Mujuru joining MDC Alliance

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 166 Views

Chamisa will never again address a rally in Matebeleland

by Disgruntled Matebeleland MDC-T youth. | 22 February 2018 | 487 Views

Assault victim 'kidnapped'

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 182 Views

Woman up for attempted murder

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 164 Views

Bush sex at Tsvangirai's funeral

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 415 Views

Kombis to #Shutdown Harare

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 135 Views

Kombi Ban/Operation De-congest Hre Inhuman: Transform Zimbabwe

by Transform Zimbabwe | 22 February 2018 | 91 Views

WATCH: Mliswa calls Mpofu a thief during Portfolio Committee meeting

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 371 Views

BREAKING: Kombi ban reversed

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 118 Views

Russia avails 70 academic scholarships to Zimbabweans

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 57 Views

PDP's statement on violence at Tsvangirai funeral

by Jacob Mafume PDP Spokesperson | 22 February 2018 | 151 Views

Army commanders want Mnangagwa to serve only one term - report

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 316 Views

Mugabe birthday holiday misnamed

by Trevor Sagota in Harare | 22 February 2018 | 171 Views

WATCH: Gukurahundi testimony that makes you cry

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 196 Views

Fighting for one's independence is not tribalism

by Sam Velaphi Mabhena, MNP President | 22 February 2018 | 128 Views

Chamisa, vigilante or villain

by Daniel Itai | 22 February 2018 | 304 Views

WATCH: Obert Mpofu being grilled

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 154 Views

WATCH: 'Obert Mpofu demanded a $10m bribe'

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 317 Views

Tsvangirai's second book to be published soon

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 104 Views

Student grants back

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 134 Views

Professor Dlodlo appointed NUST vice chancellor

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 147 Views

'Tsvangirai's funeral number two in Africa to be largely attended'

by Stephen Jakes | 22 February 2018 | 228 Views

MDC-T president Nelson Chamisa must denounce political violence

by Leonard Koni | 22 February 2018 | 144 Views

MDC-T Zhombe defends Chamisa over violence

by Stephen Jakes | 22 February 2018 | 195 Views

Plot to unleash violence backfires

by Stephen Jakes | 22 February 2018 | 181 Views

Grace Mugabe's PhD supervisor investigated

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 111 Views

Thanksgiving to Everyone who burial of Tsvangirai

by Richard M Simango | 22 February 2018 | 132 Views

Nadia Nakai no-make-up challenge goes viral

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 260 Views

Soldier loses service pistol in nightclub

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 182 Views

A befitting 'violent' farewell to an iconic boss

by Luke Tamborinyoka | 22 February 2018 | 176 Views

Zimra aim to enhance efficiency

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 84 Views

Floods wreak havoc

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 140 Views

Mnangagwa to address war vets' grievances

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 104 Views

Tsvangirai wanted passport for prophetic healing

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 174 Views

Gutu quits 'violent' MDC-Chamisa

by Staff reporter | 22 February 2018 | 131 Views