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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • 2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles
  • Simba Makoni joins the presidential race in Zimbabwe - Index of Articles

  • Too clever by half, or less than half?
    Zimbabwe Crisis Platform
    February 18, 2008

    Since Simba Makoni announced 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 Act.

    The Electoral Act
    The 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 prior debate.

    The question 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.

    The Electoral 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 Tsvangirai.

    Scenario Options
    If we look at a number of possible scenarios, we can see that the Election Act was referring to an "absolute" and not a "simple" majority.

    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?

    Assume that 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 candidates.

    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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