INCUMBENT President and Zanu PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa’s obsession with bussed crowds to his rallies is part of a well-orchestrated plan to claim popularity and cover up possible rigging, it has been claimed.
Analysts believe the ruling party is creating an illusion to the international community that it has massive support.
At its recent Centenary rally in Mashonaland Central province the party claimed an attendance of 126 000, which followed the 124 000 supporters who were said to have attended an earlier rally in Masvingo.
“We launched in Chipinge and there were many people. We went to Bulilima (Matabeleland South), then we were in Magunje, there were 75 000 people,” Mnangagwa said while addressing the crowd in Zaka during the Masvingo gathering.
“Today, our drones have counted the people and we have 124 000 people. We have also sent our drones to Gweru, where the other party is launching and there are 15 000 people.”
Mnangagwa was referring to a Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) rally simultaneously held in Gweru.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya tweeted: “Zanu PF Centenary rally provincial bussing: Shamva got 40 buses plus 70 lorries, Guruve 80 buses plus 100 lorries, Mbire 40 buses plus 50 lorries, Mazowe 80 buses plus 150 lorries, Mt Darwin 80 buses plus lorries, Rushinga 40 buses plus lorries, Muzarabani 150 buses.”
Professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies Stephen Chan said the obsession by Zanu PF to have overwhelming numbers at its rally was to create an illusion to the international community that it has massive support.
“Zanu PF sees it as a competition in terms of numbers and, since Chamisa and the CCC are dependent on rallies, Zanu PF wants to create the impression — especially for international consumption — that more people support them,” Chan said.
Witwatersrand University-based political analyst Romeo Chasara said it was now difficult to comment on Zanu PF issues because of the Patriot Act.
“It’s a bit difficult to comment on issues involving Zanu PF now because of that Patriot Act. Regardless, I feel strongly that the reason for the ruling party to bus supporters to every rally is twofold.
“One, I think this is to give an impression that the party has a huge grassroot support base/following, something they might want to use to their advantage in the event of a contested election outcome. So perhaps this is a rigging strategy (how can you say we rigged, judge us by the attendance at our rallies),” Chasara said.
“Secondly, I think the ruling party wants to send a message that might demoralise the opposition and its supporters. It’s not a secret that everyone, elsewhere is following these rallies closely. A massive turnout at every Zanu PF rally is discouraging and sends a message of hopelessness, particularly for those thatwant change. Eventually, this might lead to voter apathy for the opposition because its supporters might feel that there’s no need to vote.”
Southern Africa Programme head for the Institute for Security Studies’ Piers Pigou said: “It is unclear how this may translate into actual votes; on the one hand, rallies have the potential to scaffold mobilisation efforts, but, on the other hand, they cannot replace the nuts and bolts of work to ensure voter registration and actual participation in the polls.
“The ‘politics of rally participation’ also appears to involve a certain amount of predictable choreography — with some incentivised, others coerced,” Pigou said.
“Zanu PF’s huge resource advantage suggests that CCC participation is more organic; nevertheless, the ruling party continues to demonstrate its ability to shepherd enormous numbers to its events. What is required is a more detailed and nuanced understanding of what participation means for those who attend.”
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said political parties used rallies to create the impression of massive support.
“Hence the great lengths they would go to bussing people, and promising food, T-shirts and other goodies for attendees. Such rallies and bussed crowds become more necessaryespecially for ruling parties when they are not sure of their real support and to foreclose allegations of rigging. It is a performance that they find necessary,” Gwede said. — NewsDay