The sober view: Morning after harmonised elections

In the unfortunate event that we go for a presidential rerun, campaigns will continue until the fateful day in September.

AS you read this installment, dear reader, the deed has been done. The polls have come and gone, all that lingers is the residue, and results continue trickling in.

Others have won securing a five-year mandate bestowed by the electorate. Others have lost, some surprisingly and others predictably so.

Deservedly even. The theatre of elections has many scripts and only twocharacters — the winner and the loser.

In the unfortunate event that we go for a presidential rerun, campaigns will continue until the fateful day in September. I say unfortunately, with quite some dreading as the shadow of the violent 2008 re-run campaign is still lurking in the memories of many Zimbabweans.

If for nothing else, this is my antipathy towards a presidential re-run. I hope the electorate spares usthe agony.

Enough of the gloom, it is uncharacteristic of my usual opening banter. This week I want to talk about the aftermath of elections.

The morning after

The aftermath of elections is so much like the dreaded situation characteristic of the recklessness of youth - the morning after. Let me describe it for you:

After a wild night of bar hopping and a myriad of drinking games whose objective is simple — to get you more drunk — you wake up next to a stranger. You are not too sure how you got home, all you feel is a splitting headache and other symptomsof a hangover.But that is the least of your worries.

Regret and unwelcome thoughts flood your hung-over mind, you might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STI), probably an unwanted pregnancy, and certainly inconvenient memories.

But unlike this situation, the election morning after has long-term consequences without any immediate remedy.

No morning-afterpill, just strangers

Unlike in our anecdote of forgivable and remediable recklessness of youth, there is no morning-after pill to avert the risk of unwanted electoral pregnancy.

We are stuck with the outcome of our electoral choices for the next five years.  Most of the leaders who emerge from the election usually become strangers to their constituencies.

They have been speaking the language of the electorate throughout the campaign trail — literally and figuratively.

They suddenly understand everyone’s problem and they have simplistic but high-sounding solutions to the intractable problems that have been bedeviling our society for the past decades.

 They sell snake oil solutions to unsuspecting constituents whose only desire is bread on the table and a roof over their head.

But as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, once elected, they will discard the language of the wananchi (commoner) and adopt that of an emperor.

They will conjure all manner of excuses about the complexity of the same problems to which they had so eloquently proffered solutions.

Suddenly the language of the plebeian becomes gibberish — primordial even. They become the strangers next to whom we woke up the morning after.

But, unlike the stranger whom you wake up next to after a night of regrettable bliss, who can be on their merry way as soon as is socially acceptable, we are stuck with thesestrangers who emerge the morning after elections.

If they are a bad choice, then we will have to endure them until their term lapses. There is no morning-after pill. How convenient!

The deceit of crowds

The morning-after analogy is not only apt for the electorate but for the candidates as well.

After energy-sapping and bank-breaking campaigns, a stroke of the pen will decide their fate. Only will it dawn on the morning after, that the electorate is the proverbial stranger. Enigmatic and unpredictable.

They expose the deceit of crowds and the folly of interpreting bumper crowds as translating to votes.

Reminiscent of the good Bishop Abel Muzorewa whose 1979 campaign rallies attracted bumper crowds amid a carnival atmosphere with plenty of food, free beer, and wild dance.

As history would record, he lost that election dismally.

Embarrassingly. What had happened to the huge crowds chanting UANC slogans? It dawned on the bishop then, as it will surely dawn on many this week that an election is not decided by crowds.

Crowds do not vote, individuals do. The illusion that bumper crowds translate to election victory is one that has endured many election cycles.

Despite that, it remains an illusion still. This is because campaign rallies attract every form and character of the disintegrated mass as Karl Marx lamented.

The disintegrated mass

The crowds in campaign rallies do not necessarily consist of registered voters, nor does it predict the voting behaviour of those who are registered.

We have seen every form, shape, and character of campaign rallies with rented crowds, bussed and recycled from one campaign rally to the next.

No description captures the disintegrated mass at these rallies like that of Karl Marx as he characterised the strata of society exploited by reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces in 1840s Italy. I rephrase for context:“Alongside ruined roués with questionable means of support and of dubious origin, degenerate and adventurous scions of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds,discharged convicts, swindlers, charlatans, pickpockets, procurers, brothel keepers, porters, beggars; in short, the entirely undefined, disintegrating mass, thrown hither and yonder.”

What an apt characterisation!

This tells you that most are there for the gastronomic and cheap textile material doled out at these events.

Bakalanga say, “pana hhoba pana nyama” (Where there’s loud noise, there’s meat). As such many do not even know who the candidates are, they just know where there is a rally there are some freebies to be gained.

Others are there to compete for the display of loyalty to the leader of the party. Of course, there are rewards for the most loyal (read as least brained) who chants slogans the loudest.

Method to the madness of crowds

Elections bring to the fore, the madness of crowds. But then, there is also a method to the madness.

Crowds are an important propaganda tool in political communication.

Humans are social animals with a herd mentality.

They feel safer and surer in crowds. By demonstrating that thousands of people follow a candidate, chances are higher that the bandwagon effect can take root in fence-sitters and they may vote for the candidate with the biggest crowd.

It also helps justify certain election outcomes.

Who would doubt an election result putting one candidate ahead of others when that same candidate held mega rallies with thousands of attendees?

All claims of electoral manipulation would simply sound like sour grapes and denialism of losers. This explains why candidates compete to rent the biggest crowd.

The sober view

Should Chamisa win, the morning after will be a vindication of his much-touted strategic ambiguity approach to politics. Most of all it will register the hope that multitudes of Zimbabweans place in him.

Legendary Cont Mhlanga once quipped, “m’khulu lomsebsenzi” (this is so much work). A real question here would be, if he wins, will he have a parliamentary majority? Will he govern with a minority in parliament if such comes to pass?

On the other hand, should he lose, the morning after will bring him a headache. Uncomfortable and inconvenient conversations will be raised about his ability to acquire state power.

He may face an open mutiny from within his ranks, especially after implementing experimental but consequential political experiments in the form of the candidate selection process, the amorphous organisational form, and the presidential-focused campaign.

For Mnangagwa, should he win, the morning after will open the arena for a new power play of succession politics as this would be his last term. Factions will gain more form and content.

Without a clear succession plan, Zanu PF may again find itself at the precipice of 2017 politics and one hopes history does not repeat itself.

He will become weaker in the party as successionists look beyond him for where power might reside next.

But he may also become bolder in his policies as he would no longer shoulder political risk related to the need to be re-elected.

Should he lose, he will still have a hard time warding off successionists and uncomfortable conversations will be raised about his electability.

The big question here would be, will he be allowed to lose, and more poignantly, would he agree to lose?

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.

  • Dumani is an independent political analyst, he writes in his personal capacity. —  @NtandoDumani

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