PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa is sitting on a simmering political volcano as it further emerges that soldiers voted against him at different barracks and on postal ballots on a wider scale than initially imagined.
High-level sources told The NewsHawks that Mnangagwa lost to his close rival, main opposition CCC leader Nelson Chamisa in a number of barracks around the country and a significant portion of postal ballots.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) said out of the 18 000 registered voters who had applied for postal ballots, 17 000 were approved.
The majority of these were security forces, including the army. Chamisa got a huge chunk of those votes. In the 2018 elections, police voted against Mnangagwa.
He complained about this during campaigns. This comes as the recent elections once again showed Mnangagwa remains hugely unpopular compared to his party, the ruling Zanu PF.
While Zanu PF got 62.9% of the National Assembly seats — 176 out of 280 — Mnangagwa got 52.6% of the vote with the advantages of incumbency, huge funding and support from the Central Intelligence Organisation-run outfit, by Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz).
Main opposition CCC leader Nelson Chamisa got 44% basically running on empty. Although Mnangagwa increased his margin in percentage terms in the recent election — after moving from 50.8% to 52.6% — in real terms or hard numbers, his support actually declined by over 100 000 votes. In 2018, Mnangagwa got 2 460 463 votes compared to Chamisa’s 2 147 436, a difference of 313 027 votes.
In the recent 2023 poll, the President had 2 350 111 votes and his rival 1 967 343 — a 110 352 votes decline for Mnangagwa. However, the gap between Mnangagwa and Chamisa widened from 313 027 votes in 2018 to 382 768 votes in the recent election, widely condemned as a sham.
Similarly, Chamisa also declined by 180 093 votes in the recent election amid complaints of voter suppression, manipulation and vote-rigging by Faz. Zanu PF MPs performed better than Mnangagwa by a 10% margin.
The National Assembly has 210 seats, but they go up to 280 when 60 proportional representation ones for women and 10 for youths are added. Zanu PF got 176 and the CCC 103 seats.
The election in the Gutu West constituency was postponed after one of the candidates died shortly before the poll. In the Senate, Zanu PF has a majority after winning 33 and the CCC has 27 on proportional representation.
There are also two senators representing the constituency of people living with disabilities and 18 traditional chiefs.
The election outcome showed that Zanu PF remains far more popular than Mnangagwa amid results which are a virtual vote-of-noconfidence in him by the party and soldiers as he emerged a disputed winner without political legitimacy. Mnangagwa also lacks democratic and performance legitimacy amid isolation.
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) election observer mission rejected the outcome of Zimbabwe’s elections, saying they did not meet the benchmarks set by the country’s constitution, electoral law and its principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.
“The recent elections gave us new and more insight in relation to President Mnangagwa. Firstly, he remains unpopular by a huge 10% gap compared to Zanu PF, his own party. Second, soldiers voted against him in various places and on postal ballots. Third, he got less votes in 2023 compared to 2018 in real or hard numbers by over 100 000 votes. Fourth, in electoral terms there was no consolidation on his part. Fifth, last but not least, the message from the party and the soldiers as voters is that they have no confidence in him. If his party and soldiers lack confidence in him, then he is in serious trouble,” one security official told The NewsHawks.
“In the final analysis, this means he won but he has big problems which will crystalise and unfold in months ahead. His party has no full confidence in him. The soldiers are unhappy and restless. He has also side-lined the army and replaced it with Faz, which has created tensions within the military. Sadc has rejected his re-election. He is isolated now compared to 2018. These are serious issues which can’t be ignored.”
This comes as The NewsHawks recently reported that Mnangagwa lost at a polling station set up for soldiers from Pondoroza Barracks in Redcliff, Midlands province, during the August election.
Since the 2017 military coup, the rank and file has complained that conditions of service have deteriorated in the face of devastating economic hardships and unfulfilled promises made during the military campaign to remove the late former president Robert Mugabe.
Soldiers were promised improved working conditions and better pay. That did not materialise. If anything, the situation has deteriorated.
Senior army officers are also said to be unsettled over Faz which covertly took over the running of the elections from the military and resulted in them being sidelined even though they put Mnangagwa in power in 2017.
Before Zec set up Tent A at an open space in Rutendo near the Pondoroza Barracks, which was exclusive for soldiers from the camp to vote at, sources said military personnel had refused to vote inside the cantonment area as they feared being influenced to vote for Mnangagwa under duress.
Tent A was for Redcliff constituency’s Ward 1. According to the results pasted at the polling station, Chamisa got 511 votes, while Mnangagwa got 213. At the same Tent A polling station, the CCC parliamentary candidate Lloyd Mukapiko polled 443 votes, beating his Zanu PF rival July Moyo who got 282 votes, showing soldiers also voted for the opposition.
This pattern was repeated in many polling stations around the country, according to electoral sources.
There were two other makeshift polling booths set up for the civilian voters at the same location where, again, Mnangagwa fared dismally against Chamisa. In Tent B, Chamisa got 362 and Mnangagwa 110, while in Tent C Chamisa polled 422 votes and Mnangagwa 106. In February, MPs in the previous parliament cornered Transport minister Felix Mhona, who at the time was the acting leader of government business in the National Assembly, and outgoing deputy Finance minister Clemence Chiduwa over an unfulfilled promise made to the military in 2020 for the construction of garrison shops inside the barracks to ensure soldiers got access to low-priced basic foodstuffs.
In a post-cabinet media briefing in Harare on 26 February 2020, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said cantonment shops would enable the army to be “issued with a card or credit limit to buy what they want monthly”.
At that time, Zimbabweans, particularly civil servants, were enduring one of the worst economic crises which was characterised by acute shortages of fuel, electricity, foreign currency and basic goods such as maize-meal as well as cooking oil.
Although Zimbabwe’s annual consumer inflation dropped for a second consecutive month to 77.2% in August 2023, down from July’s 101.3%, against the backdrop of a tight monetary policy measures to mop up excess liquidity, American independent economist Professor Steve Hanke says inflation is actually 640%.
The official exchange rate is US$1:ZW$4 830, but the parallel market rate is at US$1: ZW$6 100, reflecting weak macro-economic fundamentals amid economic deterioration. While Mnangagwa controversially won, he is clearly treading on a political minefield.
A recent Afrobarometer survey showed that a majority of Zimbabweans (65%) say the country is going in the wrong direction; a large majority (69%) say the economy is bad and 62% say the living conditions are bad and this constitutes an equal proportion from both the urban and rural areas.
An overwhelming majority (85%) say the government has performed badly in addressing key issues such as unemployment, corruption, the economy and managing the economy.
Manipulated elections are not the best indicator of a leader’s popularity and stability. For instance, after elections in Gabon, on 30 August 2023, a dramatic turn of events unfolded as military staged a coup, seizing control of the nation.
This upheaval followed controversial elections in which deposed President Ali Bongo secured his third consecutive victory.
The coup leaders made a public appearance on state television, where they announced the dissolution of state institutions and the complete closure of borders. In addition, President Ali Bongo found himself placed under house arrest.
The military declared General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, the former head of the presidential guard, as the president of the transitional committee tasked with leading the country during this period of instability.
In response to these events, hundreds of people took to the streets of the Gabonese capital, Libreville, to celebrate the military’s intervention.
However, the international community, including the United Nations , the African Union, and notably France, the former colonial ruler of the country, strongly condemned the coup, which the people are supporting.
Military coups were a regular occurrence in some parts of Africa in the decades after independence. Now, after a period of relative democratic stability and Zimbabwe’s November 2017 putsch, they are on the rise again.
Zimbabwe set a wrong precedent, according for former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. The takeover in Gabon is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years, and came just a month after soldiers took control in Niger.
In 2022 there were two coup attempts in Burkina Faso, as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
African Union chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, who grappled with the Zimbabwean coup in 2017, has expressed grave concern about “the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government”.
A study by two American researchers, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, has identified over 200 such attempts in Africa since the 1950s.
About half of these have been successful. Yet research shows that coups do not help to democratise countries and take them forward. Zimbabwe is also an example.
Mnangagwa warned Zanu PF before the elections that a coup will not remove him.