INDEPENDENT presidential hopeful Simba Makoni may benefit from the waning support of President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in next month’s harmonised polls, which could result in the country’s first ever election run-off since Independence in 1980.
Mugabe faces Tsvangirai, Makoni and nonentity Langton Toungana in the presidential election slated for March 29, which political analysts view as a three-horse race between the first three candidates.The political analysts said Mugabe and Tsvangirai have since 2002’s presidential election and 2005 parliamentary polls lost considerable support among the country’s over 5,6 million voters due to a number of factors.
Mugabe’s popularity dip, the analysts said, was a result of his government’s lack of solutions and policies to extricate the country from its current political, economic and social crisis that has seen over 80% of Zimbabweans wallowing in poverty.
On the other hand, Tsvangirai lost votes due to continued internal squabbles in the MDC that saw the party split into two in October 2005.
To make matters worse, the Tsvangirai faction nearly split once again last year over the dissolution of the Women’s Assembly chaired by Lucia Matibenga and the imposition of Theresa Makone to head the assembly.
This saw Tsvangirai being labelled a dictator and further resulted in his camp losing more supporters.
The political divisions in Zanu PF and its poor performance in government; and the internal rift in the MDC, analysts said, would result in Makoni winning votes that were in the “wilderness”.
In the context of the four-candidate contest, the analysts argued, Section 110 of the Electoral Act becomes relevant.
The law states that the successful candidate in a presidential poll must receive “a majority of the total number of valid votes cast”, that is 51%. If that does not occur, a second run-off election must be held within 21 days, in which only the two candidates who performed best in the first round will participate.
If the second election ends in a tie, parliament must sit as an electoral college to decide between the two candidates, by secret ballot and without debate. Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, the national director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), said undecided voters were likely to split votes and this would result in a presidential election re-run.
Chipfunde-Vava was doubtful of any candidate getting an absolute majority.
“It’s too early for Zesn to assess (the impact of votes in the wilderness), but obviously it will split the vote and (there is) a likelihood of a run-off among the top two candidates,” she said. “I wonder if any one candidate will get an absolute majority in the first round.”
Another political analyst who requested anonymity said while Mugabe and Zanu PF have been synonymous with rural areas and Tsvangirai with urban constituencies, the two leaders may find themselves losing to Makoni.
“Makoni’s appeal in the urban areas will see him winning a lot of votes and erode greatly Tsvangirai’s support,” the University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer said.
“The erosion of the MDC support in urban areas will not be of any advantage to Mugabe.”
The analysts said it was the protest vote that would see Makoni making significant gains in both urban and rural areas.
“It is no longer a given that Mugabe and Zanu PF will win in rural areas. The economic malaise is affecting everyone in the country and who doesn’t know that it is the result of the Mugabe regime,” the analyst argued.
Zimbabwean-born South African businessman Mutumwa Mawere said he was not convinced that Makoni would be a beneficiary of protest votes.
“I believe that it is time to focus on the way forward and attempt to locate Makoni’s candidature in the broader struggle for change,” Mawere said.
“Zimbabweans must be exhausted by now and the elections if not viewed as a salvation will not produce the desired outcome. The outcome has to come not just from protest votes, but from people who are prepared to say that Mugabe and Tsvangirai have failed to lead.”
He argued that if Makoni introduced a new dimension in the political equation, no one should regard voting for him as a protest vote.
“Makoni certainly comes into the picture with something to offer and when compared to his presidential competitors, I think it would be correct to say that he has an advantage,” Mawere said.
“People who care about Zimbabwe’s future must think hard about the choices and of the four on the menu, Makoni certainly cannot be considered to be a wrong choice. If it was a beauty pageant, I am sure Makoni would be top of the crop.”
He said Mugabe could benefit from voter apathy, Tsvangirai from the anti-establishment vote, while Makoni would capture the pro-change vote.
Former cabinet minister and renowned political scientist Jonathan Moyo this week said there was a likelihood of disgruntled Zanu PF and MDC members voting for Makoni.
Moyo, the MP for Tsholotsho, however said a run-off of the presidential election was the most likely scenario on March 29.
“Given what the law provides, the likelihood of any of the candidates getting 51% is between slim and none because for the first time we have three candidates who are likely to draw solid support from their strongholds, and their respective strongholds are different,” Moyo told an online publication.
“There is quite a sizeable chance of disgruntled registered voters from both Zanu PF and the MDC who out of desperation believe Makoni is a solution – even though he says he is working alone – actually voting for him.”
Moyo, who is seeking re-election In Tsholotsho in the harmonised polls, said when there are three candidates in an environment of desperation, it was unlikely that anyone of the contestants would command a majority of votes cast.
“One may get more votes than the other two, but not enough to get 51% as required by law,” Moyo explained.
“The mathematics of it if you look around where Tsvangirai is popular and likely to get support, where Makoni is popular and likely to get support, where Mugabe is popular and likely to pick more votes, none of them is guaranteed 51%, and that’s what will cause a run-off.”
It seems Makoni had the disgruntled electorate in mind when he announced his presidential ambition on February 5.
The expelled Zanu PF politburo member said he decided to offer himself for the presidency after wider consultations in the ruling party and outside.
“Following very extensive and intensive consultations with party members and activists countrywide, and also with others outside the party (Zanu PF), I have accepted the call, and hereby advise the people of Zimbabwe that I offer myself as a candidate for the office of president of Zimbabwe in forthcoming elections,” Makoni said.