Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Electoral Scramble for Zimbabwe's 60% Young Vote

 Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba recently made an important national announcement.  Speaking at a Parliamentary committee on Justice and Legal affairs organised meeting, she made it known that thus far in the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process of the 5 million plus number of registered voters, 60% of them are between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The significance of this figure may have been limited where it not for the fact that Zimbabwe, again according to ZEC, has harmonised elections scheduled  the months of July and August 2018.  

If one expected the mainstream media to go apoplectic with this officially announced statistic, it didn’t happen.  Across the state and the private media in Zimbabwe.  At least in the immediacy of Justice Chigumba’s statement.

Social media on the other hand went slightly haywire. And this is particularly with reference to users sympathetic to the mainstream opposition MDC-T and its informal offshoot, the MDC Alliance. They expressed their optimism in lieu of the new ascendancy, controversial as it may seem , of one of the appointed acting presidents of the same party, Nelson Chamisa. 

The ruling Zanu Pf side of social media was understandably somewhat muted.  Probably because shooting from the hip about age and political capacity may be a slightly vulnerable point for them.  At least on social media. 

In both respects, and no matter how much raving, ranting or muting that may occur on social media platforms, I am certain that the main political parties that will contest the 2018 harmonised elections, should they be serious about their political ambitions, are probably frenetically crunching the electoral numbers.  And this should be in at least three respects.

Firstly, they need to crosscheck their own numbers (membership lists and so on) against those that the biometric voter registration process has produced so far.  That is to say, on their membership and supporter estimates, how many young people of the same did they get to finally become registered voters? In this they must then cross check their own figures with those of ZEC.  By polling station, ward, district, province.  

Then after putting together their figures and again, by way of the mathematical calculus that is ‘probability’, measure the likely voter turnout in what they perceive to be their respective strongholds.  And after such a serious process, work on the figures they perceive they do not have in areas that they know are not their traditional strongholds.

I know its a hard ask especially of a divided but more significantly deliberately repressed Zimbabwean political opposition.  Whether it be in the form of newfound attempts at an ‘Alliance’ or as various splinter or new parties. 

For the ruling Zanu Pf party, it’s an easier ask.  Mainly because it is a ruling party, an incumbent.  Even after a ‘coup-not- a –coup’ in November 2017.  It however has to contend with queries as to who mobilized the voter registration process in its own rural strongholds. And whether it can claim these new registered young voters did so as mobilised by the party or as a result of its own factionalism. And in the latter, which faction in or out of power can persuade them to vote for the party in its own perceived traditional strongholds. 

The second key consideration for political parties in the 2018 harmonised election is the fact that they have to think about the social aspects of the 60% young voter demographic.  Who exactly are these young people?  What do they do? Where and why? What is their gender?Where they understand this, they then fashion out policies that relate to solving problems that these young voters face in aide of giving democratic value to their campaign requests for support from these young voters. 

Should the political parties  hunker down to these key questions, they will find that a majority of young Zimbabweans are looking to survive.  Not only by way of subsistence (vendors, kombi drivers) but on a more ambitious, desired lifestyle basis (money-changers, car-dealers, informal wholesale suppliers, tobacco farmers, ranchers, urban transport/kombi owners). In their wildest dreams they want the materialistic lifestyle that benefactors can offer them.  

Or they want to be left in political patronage ‘peace’ to get there via the many patronage, religious and other networks that they are invariably part of.  

The third and final consideration is that of not forgetting the 40% by ostracising it in favour of the young voter.  This is particularly because in most instances the 40% remains decisive in ‘political’ opinion leadership and where it concerns the rural vote is in the great majority of socio-economic leadership positions (chiefs, headmen, teachers, businessmen, and clergy). But more importantly, there is no single political party that can win a majority of the 60% young voters. They will require significant chunks of both the 40% and 60% to win the presidency and have a majority in parliament. 

And even if ZEC’s final figures reduce the proportion of young voters to older ones, it will not be far from its initial registered young voters count of 60%.  Given our political realities that 60% alone will not win it for a singular party. But any serious political party will know that it has its work cut out to get a majority of these registered young voters on their side.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (