How people elect parliaments
There have already been deaths on the streets of Harare after Sunday’s elections in Zimbabwe, and if the election results released so far are any guide, protest by opposition supporters is only likely to get worse.
Four days on from election day, results in the all-important vote for President are yet to be released. It’s a crime in Zimbabwe to publish claims of specific election results before the official Election Commission does so.
After polls closed electoral officials had announced what they said was a historically high voter turnout of 75%, heralding a new and popular democratic order the the long-troubled nation.
The day after the poll Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance party declared that his scrutineers were sending in data from the 10,000 polling places that made him confident that his party has defeated the four-decade regime of the ZANU-PF party, whose candidate was the current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But Chamisa’s optimism has been severely blunted by the progressive release of results for the 210 electoral districts for the National Assembly.
199 of the 201 parliamentary seat results are now online, posted through the Zimbabwe Herald, a government-friendly national newspaper, which is presumably following the law regarding waiting for Electoral Commission-released results.
In aggregate, these results show ZANU-PF winning over 2.3 million votes (53%) to the MCD Alliance’s 1.49 million (34%).
With the official data recording massive ZANU-PF majorities in rural areas, they indicate the governing party will take over two-thirds of the Assembly seats – around 145 – to the opposition’s 60 seats.
In the published results the Opposition does very well in the urban areas of Harare and Bulawayo (Zimbabwe’s two main cities), but the rural results for the governing ZANU-PF are even heavier. Indeed, many results look remarkably lopsided.
The National Assembly of Zimbabwe is elected by standard first-past-the-post plurality voting, heavily distorting the parliamentary result in terms of seats won compared to party vote aggregates.
The numbers of votes cast in different constituencies also appear to vary remarkable, indicating a general malapportionment of the seat boundaries, apparently favouring overrepresentation of rural-ZANU-PF voters.
The MDC Alliance was shadowed in the election by a splinter faction, MDC-T, which has won around 120,000 votes (2.7%). There are a handful of seats where MDC vote-splitting to MDC-T or to minor or independent candidates might have allowed a local ZANU-PF plurality victory, but these are only a handful of cases, and are not determining the main election outcome.
More interestingly, if the aggregate total of votes is correct, the election turnout is not 75% but is probably closer to 65%, depending on the official total numbered of registered voters.
Zimbabwe has had significant population growth since the last election in 2013, although much of that will be people too young to vote yet.
These parliamentary results appear to be rapidly engaging the anger of opposition supporters, resulting in street protests met by violent reactions from police and military forces. The opposition will understandably suspect that something has gone wrong, with large numbers of MDC votes perhaps disappearing to allow a ZANU-PF presidential vote victory.
The results also suggest that in the next day or so, the Electoral Commission will announce that Mnangagwa has been elected on the first round, without needed the anticipated runoff election to be held.
Votes for president may not exactly match those for parliamentary seats, but they are unlikely to be far apart.
Zimbabwe had a terrible track record of faked election results, manipulated voter registration and violent election campaigns under the long rule of former president Robert Mugabe, who was finally ousted just last year.
It will take a lot for this election to appear credible. The wild differences in vote outcome reports of recent days will inflame tensions.
The Herald newspaper is covering the situation in a clearly anti-MDC tone, with headlines such as “MDC Alliance turns violent“, suggesting that not everyone is working to calm the situation.
Long-suffering Zimbabweans had hoped that this election would bring peace and some political rejuvenation. The election counting is not yet compete, but that bright vision now seems once again to have been lost.
UPDATE – 3 August
Late on Thursday evening (Harare time), five days after the poll, the Electoral Commission has finally announced that incumbent President Mnangagwa has won 50.8% of the vote, to rival Chamisa’s 44.3%.
The MDC Alliance Opposition claimed early in the week that morning-after data tallies for the polling places indicated that they had won. What could possibly sustain that rival claim?
The most plausible answer is that some substantial number of pro-Opposition ballots have been invalidated during the 4-day counting process.
How much vote invalidation would be needed to change the presidential result?
The raw vote numbers appear to be around 2.3 million votes (Mnangagwa) to 2.0 million (Chamisa), with somewhat over 0.2 million to around a dozen other micro-candidates.
This suggests a slight softening of the aggregate parliamentary district votes of candidates of the governing ZANU-PF party (which stands at just over 2.4 million votes, just under 53% of the total, with 3 of the 201 seat results remaining to be declared). The bulk of voters supporting other minor parties in parliamentary seats (around 13% of the nominal total) appear to have voted for Chamisa in the presidential ballot.
If wrongful invalidation of opposition ballots has been conducted for the purpose of getting the Mnangagwa vote total to be above 50% of a revised grand total, the number of such invalidations would have needed to be at least 75,000 ballots. They could have been ballots supporting not only Chamisa but also any of the other minor presidential candidates – so long as the grand total was reduced enough that the unchanged Mnangwaga tally became more than 50% of the revised total number of accepted ballots.
In this context it is worth noting that at the end of polling day, officials were declaring that voter turnout had been 75%. Today, the official presidential vote turnout is being given as 70%.
A ballot-exclusion rort – if it was contemplated and in fact carried out – would need to average just over 350 excluded presidential ballot papers in each of the 210 electoral districts.
There are reported to have been over 10,000 polling places, so only an average 8 wrongful invalidations per polling place would have made the difference.
Final published numbers of parliamentary and presidential ballots papers, when available, might reveal different grand totals, and different rates of ballot invalidation. That remains to be seen.
That said, Mnangagwa’s official vote advantage over Chamisa stands at around 300,000 votes, a lead of around 5%. Even if Mnangagwa actually failed to reach the 50% mark last weekend, the necessary runoff election between the two leading candidates (which is likely to feature significant violence) may yet see Mnangagwa officially winning the presidency.
The Opposition, meanwhile, seems to be trying to allege general rigging of the ballot counting process. Whether they are capable of plausibly publishing rival data remains to be seen.
Election monitors have praised the non-violent scenes on polling day (although 6 people are already reported to have been killed by security forces during protests in the days since.)
But monitors have not yet apparently passed judgements on aspects of the election such as the maintenance of the electoral registers, or the integrity of the processes of ballot counting and ballot exclusion.
A Result in Zimbabwe by Charles Richardson at Crikey.com