Huge discrepancies between the results of the national referendum in February and an opinion poll by the Helen Suzman Foundation carried out between January 14 and February 9 have raised speculation that the referendum could have been rigged, or if not, it was heavily influenced by fears of intimidation. But in their report on the survey, the foundation stresses that these are merely hypotheses.
They do not provide conclusive proof of either intimidation or rigging. “But the discrepancies are suspicious and worrying,” it says.
“Our survey data would have led us to expect a No majority in the referendum in at least eight and probably nine of the ten provinces and we would certainly have expected crushing No majorities in Matebeleland South, Masvingo and the Midlands instead of the Yes majorities actually announced there.”
The survey was carried out by Probe Market Research on behalf of the foundation and covered 1000 rural households and 900 urban households. The authors of the study also note that the overwhelming dominance of ZANU-PF in the country’s political life since independence in 1980 meant that there was no political “roadmap” of how opinion was structured in the country.
They, however, say since fieldwork took place during the campaign period leading to the referendum, even allowing for the fact that opinion had been forming throughout January and February, the poll’s findings should have mirrored the sentiments expressed in the referendum. The foundation says it would have expected the actual referendum vote to reflect what its poll discovered about the electorate’s attitudes towards the government.
“But this was not the case. In the referendum 55.9 percent voted No but in our survey 63.1 percent said they wanted change. In the referendum 44.1 percent voted Yes, but in our survey only 36 percent wanted ZANU-PF to continue in power. These figures are significantly different and, when we laid them side by side, province by province, even greater discrepancies emerged,” the foundation says.
It says the National Constitutional Assembly and the Movement for Democratic Change, which called for a No vote, both alleged that there had been attempts to rig the referendum in favour of a Yes vote with vote manipulation suspected particularly in the rural areas, where monitoring was weak or non-existent, with Mashonaland Central cited most frequently as a case in point. Mashonaland Central had the highest Yes vote of 70.6 percent with Mashonaland East coming second with 60.2 percent and Mashonaland West third with 55.5 percent.
One of the major questions being asked was why had that province alone given a Yes vote which was 10 percent or more higher than its otherwise similar neighbours, Mashonaland East and West? In the foundation survey Mashonaland Central was the only province with a healthy majority, 58.1 percent, wanting ZANU-PF rule to continue. Its closest ally was Mashonaland West with 48.5 percent followed by Mashonaland East with 45.3 percent.
According to the survey only one province seemed likely to vote Yes, yet in the referendum six out of ten voted Yes “Only the massive no margin in Harare and Bulawayo overturned a Yes victory,” the foundation says.
The foundation says it is striking that its survey results for Bulawayo and Harare are so close to the referendum results -23.5 percent Yes in the referendum and 20.6 percent for ZANU-PF to stay in power for Bulawayo, and 25.6 percent Yes in Harare and 27.4 percent for ZANU-PF to stay in power.
“The differences are both within the normal margins of statistical error of plus or minus 3 percent suggesting that we were quite right to think the two sets of figures should tally. Everywhere else the differences between the referendum and survey fall well outside the margins of error,” it says.
It says those who allege that there was rigging argue that it was harder for cheating to go undetected in the big towns so it was never attempted there. But other hypotheses exist, it says.
The referendum turnout was so low, only 28 percent of the potential voters. That in itself could be sufficient to explain the discrepancies.
At least one political observer has, however, told The Insider that there was rigging even in Harare but it had been done in such a way that it would not heavily distort the massive No vote. “Despite the rigging, the results still had to be credible,” the observer said.
“ZANU-PF had more success in getting its supporters to vote in the rural areas. This could explain the result in Mashonaland Central – the one province where the local ZANU-PF campaigned hard for a Yes vote. However, it makes it all the harder to explain the even wider gap between our survey findings and the Yes vote in a number of other provinces where ZANU-PF left the task of campaigning for a Yes vote to the President and the Constitutional Commission,” the foundation says.
It says an alternative hypothesis is that intimidation influenced the vote. It says that during its survey a number of people had been anxious that a No vote would bring the government’s wrath down upon them – a thing, some may say, is now happening.
It says these feelings were especially strong in Matebeleland where memories of repression in the 1980s were still fresh.
“Our interviewers emphasised that many voters here were very scared indeed – to the point of believing that a No vote would bring the Fifth Brigade banging on their doors the next day,” the foundation says. It also says in many cases the people surveyed either did not believe that the ballot was secret or they had been told by ZANU-PF activists that they would know how people voted.
The survey indicated that a lot of people were still afraid of ZANU- PF and the government with 71 percent saying they were afraid, 30 percent of them being ZANU-PF loyalists. Sixty-eight percent said they had to be careful about criticising the government otherwise they might be harmed, with the greatest fear being in Bulawayo were 82 percent were scared of criticising the government.
Ironically, Mashonaland Central which had the highest Yes vote in the referendum was number three in terms of fearing to criticise the government with 73 percent just below Matebeleland North which had 77 percent.
Mashonaland Central topped the list of those who said it was very difficult to vote in a way different to that of the community followed by Mashonaland East and West which were tied, indicating that there was a lot of peer pressure to toe the line. Mashonaland Central also topped the list of those who said it would be difficult or impossible to live in your neighbourhood if your political views were different from others.
In second place was Matebeleland South, followed by Mashonaland East and then Mashonaland West.