Con­se­quences of protest vot­ing: In the jaws of our fail­ure

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

POLITI­CIANS seek­ing of­fice make prom­ises. This is pre­sum­ably done in the be­lief that such prom­ises will al­ter vot­ers’ be­liefs about the poli­cies the politi­cian will im­ple­ment if elected and about the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the politi­cian. The flip side of the coin is that th­ese prom­ises, if not ac­cu­rately and in­de­pen­dently an­a­lysed, may later come back to haunt the mul­ti­tude who be­lieve in them. So can­di­dates must tem­per their prom­ises in an­tic­i­pa­tion of fu­ture elec­tions and the elec­torate must re­mem­ber that there is life beyond the bal­lot: We need the prom­ises de­liv­ered.

The case and curse of Zim­babwe’s ur­ban vot­ers is a clas­si­cal one whose back­lash did not de­lay. In one of my ar­ti­cles im­me­di­ately af­ter the July 31 elec­tions I wrote about how the ur­ban voter’s “un­vot­ing” ac­tion was a dev­as­tat­ingly protes­tant de­ci­sion, one that would soon haunt them. The ur­ban dweller will al­ways sigh “ren­dezvous” every five years, as if they don’t learn from last time, or maybe they don’t?

2018 “City” elec­tions: A clas­si­cal

Kaunda mo­ment

Inapt politi­cians were fit­ted in the most im­por­tant of­fices on land, all in the name of pun­ish­ing Zanu-PF. I re­mem­ber a dis­cus­sion with one in­de­pen­dent can­di­date who dis­mally lost. The in­de­pen­dent can­di­date and I were rec­ol­lect­ing on how Bu­l­awayo made de­ci­sions, al­le­ga­tions of elec­toral fraud, plans for 2023 and de­vel­op­ing the con­stituency even af­ter los­ing. On elec­toral fraud, the com­rade stiffly said the count­ing and the whole process was free and fair. On 2023, the com­rade said the towel is in. On con­stituency de­vel­op­ment even af­ter be­ing thwarted, the com­rade was still in­ter­ested in in­vest­ing in talent and so­cial en­trepreneur­ship of the his­tor­i­cal sub­urb. At least, the com­rade was tu­tored on pol­i­tics by this elec­tion. One com­i­cal yet truth­ful sub­mis­sion in the post elec­tions dis­cus­sion was that peo­ple were wan­tonly vot­ing for MDC Al­liance even if they did not know the can­di­date. “Even if MDC Al­liance had put a frog un­der its ban­ner, Bu­l­awayo peo­ple would have voted for the frog; as long as it was from MDC Al­liance”, the com­rade de­spair­ingly told me. Sadly, the anal­ogy was more than just an al­le­gory. It be­came a piece of re­lived his­tory where in Zam­bia, once they were given an op­tion of vot­ing for the Pres­i­dent and a frog, le­gend tells us that there are peo­ple who voted for the frog, how quaint is that? Analysing the elec­toral out­come in the cities, one will not doubt that city dwellers pulled a Zam­bia. Some MPs and coun­cil­lors are the least-ex­pected-to­think-and-de­liver-hon­ourables.

“Un­seen”, “un­heard”, “un­known”

and “un­wanted”

The past week pre­sented an in­ter­est­ing so­cial me­dia troll where we had to be a wit­nesses of sim­i­lar ques­tions from both Harare and Bu­l­awayo res­i­dents. One ques­tion on Twit­ter was di­rected to Tendai Biti whose con­stituents have never met and they have not heard any of his con­stituency fiveyear plan and an­other on Face­book was di­rected to Bu­l­awayo East MP Nomvula Mguni, who has never been seen (so they say) and is un­known by the 2 200 res­i­dents who liked her on July 31. This top­i­cal ques­tion­ing is joined by po­lit­i­cal the­atrics where the “Deputy Mayor” of Bu­l­awayo re­signed and the “for­mer Deputy Mayor” who was; is now the “Deputy Mayor”. Baf­fling and mirth­ful isn’t it? He al­most joined the pil­grim­age of the coun­cil­lors dis­turb­ing Nel­son Chamisa’s power plan. Now we even doubt if he was given an ul­ti­ma­tum in the first place, we even doubt if he gen­uinely re­signed only for him to resur­face con­test­ing for the same post un­con­tested. It goes on to show how the masses were taken for a ride by the same peo­ple they know are ex­cel­lently ca­pa­ble of not do­ing any­thing. For any­one wait­ing for a miracle of san­ity in the “once” al­liance, they say “muka ubike doro”.

Ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing and sad­den­ing you is a tes­ti­mony of protest vot­ing; the city will never en­joy its fruits of vot­ing. In any case, I think I ought to un­pack what protest vot­ing re­ally and thought­fully is. That is why you are read­ing this piece any­way. Not to take away peo­ple’s demo­cratic rights of choice where even their bad de­ci­sion is right be­cause they have the choice to be wrong, it still re­mains a fact: a bad demo­cratic de­ci­sion is cat­a­strophic and it van­ishes the essence of choice which should be ra­tio­nal at all times. All the same, we need to un­der­stand protest vot­ing, its dy­nam­ics and how this should in­form Zanu-PF in re­spond­ing and ser­vic­ing the in­ter­est of the protest voter.

What is protest vot­ing ac­cord­ing

to thinkers?

The first step to­wards a test of the elec­toral con­se­quences of protest vot­ing is to un­der­stand what protest vot­ing is ac­tu­ally in­tended to be. A first pos­si­bil­ity could be to look at the na­ture of the voted party. Nev­er­the­less, stat­ing that a protest voter is a voter who votes for a protest party seems at least tau­to­log­i­cal. More­over, it com­pletely over­looks vot­ers’ rea­sons for sup­port­ing a party rather than an­other. In the light of this crit­i­cal­ity, we need to con­cep­tu­alise protest vot­ers as those vot­ers who cast their vote in or­der to show dis­con­tent to their po­lit­i­cal sys­tem or elite by vot­ing for a party that is an out­sider or in­com­pe­tent in the po­lit­i­cal arena. This as­pect is par­tic­u­larly cru­cial. In­deed, what mainly drives vot­ers’ party choice is an un­der­ly­ing will­ing­ness to frighten or shock the whole po­lit­i­cal elite- noth­ing more/ less.

In a two-horse-race elec­tion, a voter’s in­cen­tives seem straight­for­ward: he should vote for his favourite can­di­date. Nev­er­the­less, protest votes are some­times cast for a “lead­ing” op­po­nent or for a sin­gle-is­sue mi­nor­ity party, and vot­ers some­times spoil their bal­lots. So far the ef­fec­tive­ness of an elec­toral protest has been gen­er­ally in­ferred by spe­cific dy­nam­ics at the macro level, such as elec­toral earth­quakes and shocks in the mor­phol­ogy of the ex­ist­ing party sys­tems. Protest vot­ers, if com­pared to ide­al­ist and prag­matic vot­ers, ap­pear as those who do not max­imise their party util­ity, nei­ther in terms of pol­icy/ ide­o­log­i­cal prox­im­ity nor in terms of party size. In other words, they are nei­ther ide­al­ist nor prag­ma­tist. This is be­cause they are sup­posed to cast a vote for a party apart from any strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tion in tra­di­tional terms, as they have the only aim to scare the po­lit­i­cal elite. In em­pir­i­cal terms, this should be sig­nalled by weak ef­fects of both ide­o­log­i­cal prox­im­ity and pol­icy pref­er­ences, as well as party strength, on party util­ity. This be­hav­iour is qual­i­ta­tively sim­i­lar to that de­scribed by Albert Hirschman in his study of Exit, Voice, and Loy­alty in con­sumer mar­kets (Hirschman 1970). One op­tion avail­able to con­sumers dis­sat­is­fied with the quality of their most-pre­ferred brand is “Exit” to a sub­sti­tute prod­uct. Con­sumer Exit re­duces the most-pre­ferred brand’s mar­ket share, po­ten­tially in­duc­ing man­agers to im­prove quality so as to re­cap­ture its lost con­sumers. If this quality im­prove­ment oc­curs, many pre­vi­ously dis­sat­is­fied con­sumers will re­turn to their usual brand. If man­agers do not re­act to the loss of mar­ket­share with quality im­prove­ments, dis­sat­is­fied con­sumers may even­tu­ally switch brand loy­al­ties al­to­gether.

The ar­gu­ment is grounded in an un­der­stand­ing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties as or­gan­i­sa­tions de­signed to win elec­tions. Like firms in Hirschman’s frame­work, when par­ties lose elec­toral sup­port, and in par­tic­u­lar when this loss of sup­port threat­ens to re­sult in a loss of of­fice, given the op­por­tu­nity they may ad­just their be­hav­iour in the hopes of re­cap­tur­ing lost vot­ers.

Les­son to the suf­fer­ing protes­tant voter For the next five years, do not ex­pect any re­sponse, mea­sur­able or non from those you put in power. You know it deep in your hearts that the de­ci­sion you made on July 31 was in­flu­enced by pun­ish­ing, not crit­i­cal think­ing thus the fruits of an­gry ac­tions are sores. For the next five years, those you voted for in the city will be busy se­cur­ing their post in their party lest they be ex­pelled by the pen happy pres­i­dent who is deft with his ex­pul­sion sig­na­ture. They are con­cerned with se­cur­ing post at the congress next year. For now, your hope lies in God. Let us pray. Pham­bili ngeZim­babwe!

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