While ZANU-PF is playing down the low voter turnout in its just-ended primary polls that were widely covered by the state media, perhaps even better than some national elections, some analysts say the apathy shown by voters, particularly in Matabeleland, was a reflection of their disenchantment with the electoral system.
The ruling party’s national political commissar, Elliot Manyika, attributed the low voter turnout, which saw less than 400 voters pitching up in at least each of three major constituencies in Matabeleland, to logistical problems such as polling officers getting to the stations late and lack of transport.
In Mangwe, which was won by ZANU-PF politburo member Eunice Sandi, only 375 people voted. Manyika said he did not understand why polling had not been postponed to the next day since officers had only arrived at 4.30pm.
He did not explain what the problem in Makokoba or Bulawayo South was. Only 369 voters turned up in Makokoba and 390 in Bulawayo South.
Party publicity secretary Nathan Shamuyarira argued that voter turnout in primary elections was always low. This had no implication, whatsoever, on the forthcoming national elections, he said.
Political commentator Lawton Hikwa agreed with Shamuyarira that voter turnout was generally low in primary elections, but said this time it could be a reflection of the people’s disenchantment with the way the elections were being conducted.
Gorden Moyo of Bulawayo Agenda, a non-profit organisation that has been carrying out a debate series on the coming elections in Matabeleland, said there were at least three theories for the low turnout.
One was that voters were disenchanted by the way the leadership was conducting the elections.
“Some voters are simply asking themselves: why bother when the candidate they elect may be rejected by the leadership?” Moyo said. “This is active apathy. People are expressing a point.”
Moyo said another reason was that people were not happy about the way their popular candidates had been barred from contesting the primary elections.
“These people that were excluded had their own following. You cannot expel six provincial chairmen and expect things to remain the same.
“Their exclusion and the systematic exclusion of all those that were involved in the Dinyane School saga (Tsholotsho Declaration) had some ripple effects,” he said.
Moyo’s argument seems to be backed by what happened in Gwanda and Insiza, where two of the popular candidates were barred from contesting because of their involvement in the Tsholotsho meeting but that decision was reversed the following day.
Abednico Ncube of Gwanda subsequently won the primary elections. He polled 4 603 votes, the highest number of votes for any candidate in the region. Some 5 448 voters turned up for the primaries.
In the case of Andrew Langa of Insiza, who was unopposed, at least two chiefs, Maduna and Sibasa, are reported to have travelled to Harare to persuade the party to allow Langa to stand.
ZANU-PF secretary for education Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, once a darling of Mpopoma, admitted that squabbles within the party could have led to the apathy.
“I feel strongly that the party must do more to end the squabbles within the province (Bulawayo) because such an environment demoralises party supporters,” he was quoted as saying by a local daily.
The ZANU-PF Bulawayo provincial executive was dissolved only two days before the primary elections that had already been postponed, and an interim one was imposed on the people.
The executive claimed it had resigned en masse.
Ndlovu also seemed to concur with Moyo’s argument that people were not happy with the candidates that had been put forward.
Ndlovu, who was ZANU-PF’s deputy political commissar before his elevation to education secretary, said research he had done on electoral patterns in the country had shown that people in the 17 to 40 age group were crucial for one to win an election because they constituted 62 percent of the population.
“They have their own expectations. They want jobs and want to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he was quoted as saying.
Ironically, these are the very “Young Turks” the party has barred from contesting the elections.
Moyo said the third reason for the apathy was that some people in Matabeleland simply saw no point in going to vote because, in their view, the ruling ZANU PF was going to be clobbered by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The ruling party won only two seats in Matabeleland in the 2000 elections but increased these to four through by-elections in Insiza and Lupane.
“People could simply be asking themselves: why bother when we are going to lose anyway?” Moyo said.
“In other words, they have already surrendered their constituencies to the opposition.”
Moyo, however, said he was not sure whether the opposition would capitalise on this because it was not active. People were not even sure whether it was going to contest the elections or not.
Besides, he said, the change that had been promised by the MDC had not been realised. Things were just as bad as they were in 2000.
The MDC has argued that there is no way it can effect meaningful change since it is not in government.
Hikwa had another theory on the low voter turnout, especially in constituencies that had been reserved for women. He said there could have been apathy because this was a new phenomenon and people were slow to accept change.
“This was a major policy change, a paradigm shift, which could have left the electorate shell-shocked, especially since, in some cases, constituencies had not only been reserved for female candidates but the candidates themselves had also been imposed.”