The Politics of By-Elections

By Dr.Phillan Zamchiya, Regional Coordinator

There are definitely political mind games at play in reference to by-elections. President Mugabe was indeed granted an extension by the High Court to proclaim the dates for by elections in the three constituencies of Nkayi South, Lupane East and Bulilima East by the 1st of October 2012. What we need to do here is to extend the nuance. Will President Robert Mugabe have the macho to declare by-elections and comply with the new court order? And off course what kind of politics is at play for MDC T, MDC N and ZANU PF?


Strictly speaking President Mugabe will not be in contempt of court if he announces by-elections in just the three constituencies. However, more important is the electoral politics at play. If by-elections are held in the three Matabeleland constituencies, it is definite that ZANU PF will get zero seats. Never mind the current Freedom House and Afrobaromoter surveys showing an in-crease in ZANU PF's support base, the margin is insignificant to trans-late into winning the three seats. There is no realistic way ZANU PF can spring a surprise.


All faculties being normal ZANU PF would obviously expect to lose in these three constituencies but the party is not pre-pared to deal with the de-feat's psychological impact a few months before a general election. Be-cause ZANU PF will be humiliated in these three constituencies the MDCs would not mind by elections in these areas.


If this political reality makes sense it is unlikely President Mugabe would only announce by elections in the three constituencies as the turf is be-tween MDC N and MDC T. Recent political surveys point to a massive decline of support for not only the MDC N but smaller parties in general. Nevertheless, there is no clarity in recent surveys as to whether the outflow from smaller parties is leading to an inflow to larger parties. In addition the by elections will be an early barometer to indicate who is who in Matabeleland and a re-strategizing opportunity for either parties.


If President Mugabe calls for by-elections in all the vacant seats this might work for the image of MDC T and ZANU PF but the move will dent the image of MDC N as the latter is still working to stretch its national claws.

For the two big parties the by elections will have no serious political consequences. Why? Taking a micro-focus on the 16 vacant lower house parliamentary seats, the status quo in terms of balance of power in Parliament is not likely to change. The MDC T loss of support indicated in the surveys is not likely to affect the MDC T's for-tunes in parliament. In the same breadth, the ZANU PF gain in support is in-sufficient to wrestle parliamentary seats from MDC T. Even if one is to go by the Freedom House report, which shows the most significant decline in MDC T support, the party would still retain most of its parliamentary seats if by-elections were to be held.


Let me illustrate with the five vacant seats in the lower parliamentary house which were previously held by the MDC T. These are Makoni central, Mabvuku- Tafara, Matobo North, Gutu South and Emakandeni-Entumbane parliamentary seats. Even factoring in an 18% loss of support for the MDC T and a 14% gain by ZANU PF as indicated on aver-age in the Freedom House survey, the MDC T re-mains certain to retain four constituencies and will need a simple game-changer to maintain all. Off course the MDC T would retain the four seats with a lower margin but it is a first past the post system. For ex-ample, based on the Freedom House survey, in Makoni central the MDC T vote might decline from 7,069 in March 29 2008 to 5,789 while ZANU PF's vote will rise slightly from 4,035 to 4,600 which is not enough to wrestle the seat. The same trend applies to all the other four constituencies. However, in Matobo North, ZANU PF might peep MDC T by a slight margin.


The loss of support indicated by Freedom House would mean ZANU PF's votes in Matobo will in-crease from 3, 102 in March 29 2008 to 3,536 votes compared to MDC T's decline from 3,503 to 2,873 votes. The over-arching message is that the MDC T will win the majority of its seats in the by election because the loss of support is insignificant to upset the balance. On the other hand, given that the Freedom House survey points to a rise in ZANU PF support, this means that ZANU PF will retain 8 of the vacant seats that previously be-longed to it. These are Mutare North, Bindura North, Guruve North, Mt Darwin East, Shamva South, Marondera East, Mwenezi West and Gokwe -Gumunyu.


By and large, the by-elections will retain the hung-parliament and will provide no solution to the hanging government. Politically, holding by elections in just the three Matabeleland constituencies will leave ZANU PF bruised, whereas by elections in the entire 28 vacant seats will demoralise the MDC N and as for MDC T either way things will remain more of the same. Not forgetting that the thrust of the struggle is to make sure that the by elections and any subsequent electoral processes are held in a free and fair environment with procedural certainty.



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