Consequences of protest voting: In the jaws of our failure
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
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”
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
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!