Thursday, May 31, 2018

July 30 elections: Will the will of the people slay Goliath?

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A few weeks ago, a colleague, who was not registered to vote, told me he thought voting was a pointless exercise. He strongly believed that the new administrators would not relinquish power if they lost in elections due in two months.
By NQABA MATSHAZI
His reasoning was that there was no way the military and those newly in the corridors of power could have worked so hard to remove Robert Mugabe only to rule for eight or so months.
He was convinced that even if Zanu PF were to lose elections, they would not hand over power and predictably raised the spectre of 2008, when Mugabe remained at the helm, in spite of losing elections.
In a meeting, someone who I know supports MDC-T, was also not convinced Zanu PF would not hand over power in the event they lost elections.
I told them that what they could do was to cast their votes for their chosen candidates, as this was the only variable they can control.
If Zanu PF were to refuse to hand over power in the event they lost, then that would be another issue, which, at the moment, is out of their control.
I thought of the Gambian elections, where voters in the last election chose their candidates using marbles instead of conventional ballot papers, but they were still brave enough to vote for the candidate of their choice.
Yahya Jammeh had been in power for eons and the odds were that he would not lose or if he lost, he would not hand over power.
But Gambians did not let that perturb them, as they went on to vote for Adama Barrow.
So bad was Jammeh’s defeat that — probably in confusion — he conceded defeat, but when he gathered his wits, he tried to subvert the will of the people by refusing to accept he had lost.
Imagine if the Gambians had been defeatist and said there was no point in voting, Jammeh, a long time dictator, would still be in power to this day.
Jammeh had been in power for 22 years and his continued reign was taken for granted by many, but the results in that country shocked many people, because Gambians refused to be cowed by circumstances and insisted on voting for a candidate of their choice.
They did not bother worrying what Jammeh’s response would be in the event that he lost elections, but they just did what they thought was right.
The will of the people was not to be subverted.
Then there are those that believed that the elections will be rigged, or as we say in Zimbabwe, Nikuved.
In 2013, there were claims that ink disappeared from ballot papers if someone voted for the opposition, quite fantastical claims it seemed at that time.
It seems in Ukraine in 2004, the exact same thing happened and ink disappeared from ballot papers each time voters voted for the opposition.
But despite this, the opposition won and the incumbent was booted out after the mystery of the blank ballot papers had been solved.
Back to the Zimbabwean situation, I feel there is a lot of fear mongering ahead of these elections meant to create despondency, with most of it being subtle.
What this could lead to eventually is apathy from opposition supporters, as they believe that their votes will ultimately not count and this will play right into Zanu PF’s hands.
Last week, two issues dominated conversations, the first being Finance deputy minister Terrence Mukupe’s remarks that the military would not let MDC-T leader, Nelson Chamisa take over power in the event he won elections.
Mukupe denied the utterances and the government issued a stinging response to the deputy minister’s statement.
The second was from Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Josaya Hungwe, who pretty much said what Mukupe said, but this time I have not seen a government response to those utterances.
What these statements seem to infer is that there is no point in voting in the next elections, as the military, not Zimbabweans, has the final say on who gets to run the country.
I am being a sceptic here, but this reinforces my belief that the ruling party is now beginning to invest in opposition apathy rather than their own capacity to win an election.
Even after Mukupe’s rebuke, his statements may have already sent the intended message and that is to instil fear and a feeling of hopelessness in opposition supporters.
What the opposition need to do now is to ensure that their supporters are not disheartened and they turn out in numbers.
Even when the odds look insurmountable, they have to ensure that as many people as possible turn out for voting, as this will make the cost of rigging very high and will dissuade any potential fraudsters.
The same strategy relates to the question of whether the military will accept an opposition victory.
If the margin of victory for the opposition is very big, then it will take someone very brave or stupid to go against the people.
Insistence on being part of the ballot paper tendering and printing process is a start, as this will help stave off the Ukranian scenario where ink disappeared from ballot papers.
The opposition need to be unyielding in demands to have a forensic audit of the voters’ roll and if need be, they have to take a sample of the people that are registered and follow up to see if these are real people.
There are many ways the opposition can do this, but the ultimate goal is to make rigging quite expensive and an unattractive proposition.
Last year, when the military helped topple Mugabe, they seemed to be groping from one strategy to the next, trying to walk a fine constitutional tightrope, but when the people went out into the streets, Mugabe knew his goose was cooked.
While there is real fear that the next elections may not reflect the wishes of the people, it is imperative that the opposition urge their supporters to go out and vote in their numbers.
There should always be a message of hope, to counter despondency – that in the end, the will of the people will prevail and Goliath will be slain.