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2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles
Simba Makoni joins the presidential race in Zimbabwe - Index of Articles
clever by half, or less than half?
Zimbabwe Crisis Platform
February 18, 2008
his candidature for the Presidential election in March, there
have been a wide range of theories speculating as to why he has
done this. Some claim he is a stalking horse for Mugabe. Others
maintain he is the candidate for the disaffected within ZANU PF.
Yet others assert that he is an honourable man bent on saving his
country from the destruction wreaked by Mugabe. But the big question
remains unanswered: can he seriously challenge Mugabe if he is not
a stalking horse , and, more interestingly, why did he decide to
mount this challenge?
It is apparent
to most Zimbabweans that it will take a miracle for any candidate
to beat Robert Mugabe, and not because Mugabe is so deeply loved
by his people, but because the race is so loaded in Mugabe's
favour that it is impossible for anyone but Mugabe to win.. In 2002,
despite extreme violence, disqualification of voters, delays rendering
it impossible to vote in the urban areas, and a plethora of other
irregularities, Robert Mugabe beat Morgan Tsvangirai by the exact
margin of the supplementary voters roll - 400,000 votes. This
result was then protected by the additional strategy of ensuring
that the subsequent election petition mounted by the MDC never saw
the light of day, and Zimbabwe will go to the polls in March 2008
with that case still unresolved.
So why would
it be any different in 2008? Mugabe faces the same problems, or
does he? However, it is paradoxically the mere fact of Simba Makoni's
candidacy, not the man himself, that changes the picture, and it
is simply because that having three substantial candidates creates
extreme problems for Robert Mugabe's rigging strategies. The
key lies in the Zimbabwe Electoral
Electoral Act deals with what happens if no presidential candidate
obtains a majority of the total number of valid votes cast in the
presidential election. Section 110(3) of this Act states that "where
two or more candidates are nominated and no candidate receives a
majority of the total number of valid votes cast, a second election"
must be held within 21 days after the previous election. Section
110(4) provides that in the second election only the two candidates
who received the highest and next highest number of valid votes
cast at the first election will be eligible to contest the second
election. If these two candidates receive an equal number of votes,
Parliament must, as soon as practicable after the declaration of
the result of that election, meet as an electoral college and elect
one of the two candidates as President by secret ballot and without
is what is meant by the phrase "no candidate receives a majority
of the total number of votes cast." Does this mean a "simple
" majority and the candidate with the most votes wins? If
the Act meant this, it would not have added the words "of
the total number of valid votes cast". Additionally, if all
that is required is a simple majority, there would be no need whatsoever
for the provision in s 110(4) for a run off between the person who
received the highest number of votes and the person who received
the second highest number of votes; under a simply majority system
the person who received the highest number of votes would have already
won the election even if he or she did not receive over 50% of the
total votes cast.
Act clearly envisages that, in the Presidential election, the winner
had to have an "absolute "majority; that is, the winner
must get more than 50% of the votes.This, of course, this is very
easy in a two horse race, but much more difficult where there are
more than two candidates, and especially where at least three of
the candidates are serious challengers, as are Mugabe, Makoni, and
we look at a number of possible scenarios, we can see that the Election
Act was referring to an "absolute" and not a "simple"
In the first
scenario, only two candidates are standing. If one candidate obtains
over 50% of the total votes cast, that candidate wins. The two candidates
receive an equal number of valid votes. (Each receives 50% of the
votes.) There would have to be a run off election at which hopefully
there would not again be an equality of votes, and resort would
have to be the secret ballot of Parliament.
In the second
scenario, three candidates stand. Candidate one receives 33.5% of
the vote, candidate two receives 33.4% of the vote and candidate
three receives 33.1%. Here, there would have to be a run off between
candidates one and two.
In the third scenario, five candidates stand. Candidate one receives
23%, candidate two receives 22.9%, candidate three receives 20.1%,
candidate four receives 18% and candidate five receives 16%. There
would have to be a run off between candidates one and two.
So this is what
the legislators envisaged would have to happen in a Presidential
election, and this is different from Parliamentary elections. The
Electoral Act uses a completely different formulation to describe
the majority that is needed to elect members of Parliament. In section
66 of the Electoral Act which section deals with the majority needed
to be declared the winner, all that is required is that a candidate
must obtain the greatest number of votes, a "simple"
majority. There is no provision for a run off in this section because
no run off will ever be needed. There will always be a person with
a simple majority. The only situation where there is a need to break
a deadlock would be where the two top candidates receive exactly
equal number of votes.
Thus in a constituency election, it is a winner-take-all approach.
For example, there are three candidates and candidate one receives
37%, candidate two receives 36% and candidate three receives 27%,
then candidate one will have received the greatest number of votes
and will be declared the winner. Thus, the Zimbabwean Electoral
Act describes different courses for different horses, and herein
lies the dilemma for Robert Mugabe in Simba Makoni's candidacy.
If Robert Mugabe
does not get more than 50% of the vote, there will have to be a
run-off between the top two winners, and how might this work?
Mugabe gets less than 50%, and Morgan Tsvangirai comes second, just
narrowly beating Simba Makoni: Mugabe gets 37%, Tsvangirai gets
32%, and Makoni gets 31%. If the Makoni supporters are determined
to get rid of Mugabe, and are also confident that they have strong
support amongst the already elected MPs, then they might decide
to vote for Tsvangirai in the second round, and, if the numbers
hold, Tsvangirai gets 63% of the vote to Mugabe's 37%. Here
it is worth remembering that this is a harmonized election, and,
if there had to be a second round for the Presidency, the composition
of the Parliament would be already known, because that was resolved
on the basis of "simple" majorities.
Now, if the
Makoni supporters are confident that they can control the Parliament,
they might well not feel threatened by a Tsvangirai presidency,
and obviously they want Mugabe gone, so they support Tsvangirai
in the second round, and the rest, as they say is history. Of course,
they may throw their weight behind Mugabe in order to prevent an
MDC presidency, but here we can presume some kind of internal deal
between the Mugabe and the Makoni factions to keep ZANU PF in control.
However, take a very long spoon to sup with this devil on past performance,
and remember that once Mugabe has power it will not be so easy to
wrest it away. Also they would have to be very sure that Parliament
has not been packed with Mugabe supporters, and we can guess that
the ZANU PF "dissidents" would know what the situation
is better than the rest of us.
This may also
work the other way round. Assume that Mugabe gets 37%, Makoni gets
32%, and Tsvangirai gets 31%. Since the greatest impediment to MDC
political power has always been Mugabe, it is safe to assume that
they will encourage their supporters to vote for Makoni, who then
wins by 63% to Robert Mugabe's 37%, and again the rest is
history. Of course, this will be even easier for the MDC if they
manage to get more than a third of the Parliamentary seats, and
return to a constitution blocking minority as was the case between
2000 and 2005, which argues strongly for the need for the MDCs to
find an alliance that does not vote split in the Parliamentary election!
Now, there have
been situations where there were more than two candidates for the
Presidential election; this was the case in 2002. However, the split
in the voting in 2002 was not interesting for the purposes of comparison:
according to the Registrar-General's disputed results, Mugabe
got 56% of the vote, Tsvangirai got 42%, and the other three candidates
less than 2% between them. This was clearly not a three-horse race,
as is the current situation, and we now have three very plausible
Of course, Mugabe
can get his 50% majority, just as he did in 2002: all the machinery
remains in place for getting the result he wants. However, this
may be much more difficult than in 2002 and it would probably require
rigging on a massive scale this time round which would be able to
be exposed by careful election observation. This would not require
nation-wide observation, but merely the in-depth and total coverage
of a number of key constituencies: rigging will have to happen everywhere
if Mugabe is to get 50% or more.
And this is
why the Makoni candidacy is so important. Not because he is some
super-hero to save the nation, but because his mere participation
exposes Mugabe to serious challenge and possible loss. If he makes
50%, and rigging is exposed, then he will be in serious trouble,
and not even SADC will save him. If he gets less than 50%, then
he is totally exposed to the Makoni faction or the Tsvangirai faction
joining forces, not in an alliance, but merely in a vote. After
all, elections are not only about the transfer of power, but also
about the test of public confidence. A betting man would not believe
that there are too many Zimbabweans with much love for their outgoing
President, and perhaps this time he has been too clever by way less
than a half. He may be forced to show the world how empty are his
endless claims that he is a popular leader, which may be enough
for even Africa to abandon him. And all this means is that the voters
vote for any candidate other than Robert Mugabe, and this will test
his popularity in no uncertain terms, and may even force him into
a run-off, and a run-off he will probably lose.
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