A day after the 2013 elections, I sat with one MDC parliamentary candidate, who had lost heavily and was crestfallen, after losing in 2008, he had hoped the 2013 polls would mark his coronation.
Candour: NQABA MATSHAZI
The results were quite chastening for him, after a close result in 2008, he thought he had done enough to win in 2013, but this was not to be.
In despair, he remarked that maybe Zimbabweans preferred a reformed Zanu PF rather than an opposition victory and I was not surprised to learn a few months later that he had quit his party and was now in a dalliance with the ruling party.
Before that, I dismissed the notion and I was sure that the loss had badly affected him and he was hallucinating or at worst he was trying to justify and convince himself that joining Zanu PF was not the worst thing under the sun.
However, if the opposition, particularly the MDC-T, is to make any headway in the next election, then it has got to interrogate itself and ask if there is any merit to this argument.
A famous example is that of Simba Makoni, who left Zanu PF to stand as an independent in the 2008 elections and won 8% of the vote to push the polls into a run-off.
MDC-T was apoplectic at Makoni’s decision and up to this day the party is convinced they would have won the 2008 election had it not been for the former Finance minister.
This is an easy argument to make, but it is totally devoid of critical logic, as it assumes that Makoni’s voters would have voted for MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
There is no investigation whether these people voted for Makoni because they were angry at Zanu PF and voting for the former Finance minister was because they could not fathom voting for Tsvangirai.
In 2008, in Matabeleland South for example, Makoni was the most popular candidate in that region ahead of both President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, meaning even without the Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) frontman, the MDC-T candidate was not the most favoured person.
It is difficult to generalise the results across the country, but I thought to use Matabeleland South as an example because of the number of votes the top candidates got in that region and considering Makoni got a considerable chunk of his vote in the Matabeleland region.
It is also important to note that five years later, Mugabe had the most votes in Matabeleland South and Tsvangirai was a distant second, meaning it is impossible to conclude that those who voted Makoni in 2008 would have voted for the MDC-T leader.
This has been a pattern across many elections over the years, with Edgar Tekere being quite a popular choice in the 1990 elections following the formation of the Zimbabwe Unity Movement.
In subsequent elections, both Makoni and Tekere had lost their aura, as they had long been out of Zanu PF, while particularly for the latter, electoral violence had long rendered his movement prostrate.
There was also excitement when Jonathan Moyo quit Zanu PF and stood as an independent in Tsholotsho in 2005, defeating both the ruling party and the then united MDC.
In 2014, Joice Mujuru was axed from Zanu PF and there has been an outpouring of support for her, although she has wobbled in recent days.
Even when the war veterans’ leadership was axed from Zanu PF, many began to see them as democracy activists and are courting them to their parties because there is a belief they could be game changers in the next election.
Examples abound of people who quit Zanu PF and went on to enjoy considerable success in initial elections against the ruling party, not least Margaret Dongo, who brought to the fore Zanu PF’s vote rigging tactics.
Now, the question the opposition should be asking themselves and strategising for ahead of the next elections, is why there is this clear pattern and how they can change the narrative.
MDC-T can continue sweeping votes in urban areas, but this is akin to preaching to the church choir.
There is a huge chunk of people that are not convinced by the opposition and are willing to sit out elections, even if it means five more years of this lot ruling the country.
There are thousands of people that believe Zanu PF long took a wrong turn, but are willing to continue voting for the party because they do not see the opposition as a viable alternative.
What MDC-T and other parties ought to be doing now is reaching out to these fence-sitters and trying to convince them on why they should vote for them.
The parties should be commissioning their own researches and focus groups to find out what the electorate wants and try to tailor their messages for the undecided voters right now.
Messages to the electorate should be tailored based on scientific research rather than by some senior leaders claiming they had dreams or that God told them they would win, as reportedly happened in the 2013 elections.
MDC-T, I keep picking on them because they are the largest opposition based on previous election results, should not think they will win the elections simply because people are angry at Zanu PF or that the economy is not ticking, but rather they should work for each vote.
It is good that MDC-T is introspecting and seeking reasons why it lost the 2013 elections, instead of just blaming rigging for everything – they had their own shortcomings as well – and a good percentage of this introspection should be based on quality scientific data.
If the MDC-T do not like what their research tells them, then it gives them a golden opportunity to right the wrongs, instead of waiting for the next electoral defeat so they can cry foul.
Failure to carry out research in trying to woo fence-sitters will mean another electoral defeat for the opposition, meaning Zimbabweans will continue to look to Zanu PF for change and reduce the opposition to bit-part players.