Justice Priscilla Chigumba, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), recently made an important national announcement. Speaking at a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal affairs, she said that at this point in the biometric voter registration process, figures show that 60 percent of the more than 5 million registered voters are aged between 18 and 40. The significance of this figure may have been limited where it not for the fact that Zimbabwe, again according to ZEC, has harmonised elections scheduled the months of July and August 2018.
The mainstream media – both state and private – did not fly into a fit of apoplexia over this officially announced statistic, as one might have expected. /*Social media, on the other hand, went haywire, particularly users who are sympathetic to the main opposition party, the MDC-T, and its informal offshoot, the MDC Alliance. They expressed their optimism in lieu of the new ascendancy, controversial as it may seem , of one of the appointed acting presidents of the same party, Nelson Chamisa.
The response on social media of those sympathetic to the ruling Zanu-PF was understandably somewhat muted. This is probably because shooting from the hip about age and political capacity may be a slightly vulnerable point for them, at least on social media.
No matter how much raving and ranting, or the opposite, there might be on social media platforms, I am certain that the main political parties to contest the 2018 harmonised electionsare frantically crunching the electoral numbers. And if they were serious about their political ambitions, they should be doing so in at least three respects:
Firstly, they need to crosscheck their own numbers (membership lists and so on) against those that the biometric voter registration process has produced so far. In other words, based on their membership and supporter estimates, how many young people did they get to become registered voters? They must then crosscheck their own figures with those of the ZEC, by polling station, ward, district and province.
When they have put together their figures, they need to measure the probable or likely voter turnout in what they perceive as their respective strongholds. After this important process, they must work on the figures that they perceive they do not have in those areas that are not their traditional strongholds.
I know this is a big ask, especially of a divided and, more significantly, a deliberately repressed Zimbabwean political opposition. But it must be done, whether in the form of newfound attempts at an alliance or as the various splinter or new parties.
For the ruling Zanu-PF party, it’s an easier ask, mainly because it is the ruling party, the incumbent, even after the ‘coup-not-a-coup’ in November 2017. However, Zanu-PF has to contend with queries as to who mobilised the voter registration process in its own rural strongholds and whether it can claim that these new registered young voters did so as mobilised by the party or as a result of its own factionalism. And in the latter, which faction in or out of power can persuade them to vote for the party in its own perceived traditional strongholds.
The second key consideration for political parties in the 2018 harmonised election is that they have to think about the social aspects of the 60% young voter demographic. These are the questions they should be asking: Who exactly are these young people? What do they do? Where do they do it and why? What is their gender? When they have this information and they understand it, then they can formulate policies that relate to solving the problems that these young voters face. This will impart democratic values to their campaign requests for support from these young voters.
Should the political parties thrash out these key questions, they will find that the majority of young Zimbabweans are looking to survive, not only by way of subsistence (vendors, kombi drivers) but on a more ambitious, desired-lifestyle basis (money changers, car dealers, informal wholesale suppliers, tobacco farmers, ranchers, urban transport/kombi owners). They dream of the materialistic lifestyle that benefactors can offer them. Or they want to be left in ‘political patronage peace’ to get there via the many patronage, religious and other networks they are invariably part of.
The third and final consideration is that of not forgetting the 40% of older voters in favour of the young voter. This is particularly because the 40% remains decisive in political opinion and leadership. When it comes to the rural vote, the great majority of socio-economic leadership positions (chiefs, headmen, teachers, businessmen, and clergy) are held by people in the older age bracket. But more importantly, no political party will win the election with just the majority of the 60% young voters. They will require significant chunks of both the 40% older and 60% younger vote to win the presidency and gain a majority in parliament.
Even if the ZEC’s final figure shows a reduction in the proportion of young voters to older ones, this will not be far from its initial count of 60% registered young voters. Given Zimbabwe’s political realities, that 60% alone will not win the election outright for a single party. But any serious political party must know that it has its work cut for it to get these registered young voters on their side.