2018 elections and coalitions


By Dr. Phillan Zamchiya
Morgan Tsvangirai, the President of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC T) has been on a charm offensive signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Joice Mujuru, leader of the National People’s Party (NPP), on 19 April 2017 and Welshman Ncube, the President of another MDC formation, on 20 April 2017. The agreements are meant to pave way for a pre-electoral alliance ahead of the 2018 general elections. Do the political indicators on the ground signify the need for a coalition? My answer is yes! Why?

First, Tsvangirai’s vote has been constant in the past three presidential elections. He has been getting around a million votes in all the three elections. In 2002, 2008 and 2013 Tsvangirai had 1 258 401, 1 195 562 and 1 172 349 votes respectively. This signifies the need to think outside the box in order to grow the vote. Drawing from the utility value of elections, Tsvangirai needs to maximize the electoral economies of scale to grow his vote far beyond the million mark.

Second, Zimbabwe has a high electoral threshold. For one to be national President the law is clear that one needs to get 50% plus one vote. This literally means one vote is important. One can get 50% of the vote but will fail to be President for lack of one vote. A coalition would have a mechanical and modifying effect on electoral laws by making votes count. This is much substantiated by Duverger’s theory.

Third, there has been an asymmetrical distribution of the vote in some elections. The MDC T has not been impressive in Mashonaland provinces. For example, President Mugabe in 2013 had 925 486 votes in these three provinces whereas Tsvangirai had 1 172 349 in all the ten provinces. An evidently unhealthy distribution whether rigged or not. It is therefore important to seek partnership with formidable and reliable forces in these spaces. On the other hand, the vote in Matabeleland provinces has not been consistent. In 2008, it was MDC that performed well and in 2013 it was the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).

Fourth, a coalition is a realistic way of limiting the electoral gains of a dominant and semi-authoritarian ZANU PF to preserve opposition parties. It will contain the consequences of an extreme ZANU PF government that might gain exclusive power and implement policies that seek to annihilate the opposition in the post-election period. For example, the two thirds majority that ZANU PF currently holds in Parliament is a threat to the Constitution, opposition and democracy. To contain such excesses, parties that care more would be willing to give up more office benefits in order to keep an authoritarian government out of power or limit its powers.

Fifth, the pre-election alliance reduces uncertainty among critical voters on the government coalition that will form after the next election and on which policies would be implemented. Parties with certainty are more likely to attract more votes. As Golder (2006:198) argues, ‘by decreasing voter uncertainty over which government might form and thus which policy might get implemented, the parties that form a pre-electoral election can attract more votes than otherwise would be the case’. Following unpopular and foisted coalition governments across the world like in the United Kingdom, critical voters might be unwilling to vote because there is no clear indication of what type of government will form. Tsvangirai seems to be resolving this way ahead.

Sixth, the MDC T has some political deficiencies which require other actors to augment. For example, it lacks liberation war credentials and is viewed as a party without a history by its opponents and is easily battered on that. Other notable deficiencies are technocratic prowess, limited financial resources and inexperience in negotiating with state security apparatus for easy of transfer of power in the event of winning the 2018 general election.
Seventh, Zimbabwe is in a gray zone in its protracted transition. It requires a democratic breakthrough. A coalition makes it easier for citizens, civil society, the region and or international community to support the missing link which is a democratic breakthrough.
The next question is what kind of Coalition works and how? God willing I will address this in my next brief.

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