The 2023 election was a race between a party more popular than its leader, and another leader more popular than his own party.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa polled less than his party MPs in this election, by a wider margin than in 2018, according to a newZWire analysis of results. In contrast, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa again proved more popular than his MPs.
In 2018, Mnangagwa’s vote tally of 2,456,010, was 21,698 votes less than the ZANU-PF parliamentary votes – 2,477,708. Five years later, that gap has widened significantly to 144,680 votes. (The MPs’ tally excludes Gutu West, where there will be a by-election)
Mnangagwa won in 127 constituencies while ZANU PF won 136 in this election. Back in 2018, he beat Chamisa in 126 out of the 210 constituencies as ZANU-PF won 145 seats.
The President this year only beat his party in Masvingo province, and only by a margin of 3,981. The biggest variance was in Harare, a gap of 29,263 votes, or a 13.1% variance.
It’s a reversal of 2018, when Mnangagwa won more votes than his party in six out of ten provinces – Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Bulawayo.
In 2018, Mnangagwa lost in 20 constituencies that ZANU PF MPs won. This time, he lost in Epworth South (Mnangagwa had 962 less votes than ZANU PF), Harare South (-1,166), Hunyani (-797), Mbare (-3,347), Mutasa South (-1,610), Goromonzi West (-1,132), Gwanda South (2,217), Gokwe Central (-966), Redcliff (-1,404) and near his home ground, Zvishavane-Ngezi (-1,996).
Is this new? No. Robert Mugabe also had fewer votes than his party in 2013 and 2008.
What about Nelson Chamisa?
In 2018, Chamisa got 2,151,927 votes, 508,561 more than his MPs. The gap has narrowed to 116,038 in 2023. Chamisa was more popular than his CCC MPs in all provinces.
The gap between Chamisa and his party was narrowest in Manicaland, just 548 votes, or 0.23%. In Harare, Chamisa won 21,370 more votes than his party, a 4.3% variance, and 13,531 votes more than CCC in Mash Central, a gap of 16.5%.
Our analysis of the data shows Chamisa won big in closely contested seats.
In Mabvuku Tafara, gold dealer Scott Sakupwanya lost by 15,934 to 12,038 to the CCC candidate. Mnangagwa had just 7,010 votes, some 5,028 votes less than Sakupwanya. Chamisa had 4,740 more votes than his candidate. This suggests that some voters chose Sakupwanya and Chamisa.
In Norton, where CCC’s Richard Tsvangirai beat independent Temba Mliswa, Chamisa had 4,987 more votes than his candidate. Some Mliswa voters may have voted Chamisa.
In Mazowe West, although he lost to Mnangagwa, Chamisa beat his own CCC candidate by 4,484 votes. For Insiza South, won by ZANU PF, Chamisa had 4,268 more votes than his candidate.
How do we explain all this?
Mnangagwa vs ZANU PF MPs: In July, Mnangagwa’s close ally, Owen ‘Mudha’ Ncube, warned candidates at a rally in Kwekwe: “When results are announced, we are not going to tolerate a situation where the President gets less than the councillor or MP.”
He will be looking at the data and wondering what went wrong. But he need not look too far. Many party insiders will be whispering of “bhora musango”, where MPs sabotage their leader by urging supporters to vote for Chamisa. This is a widely held view. But there are other factors beyond this.
First, many ZANU PF MPs have a closer connection with the local base than their president. They maintain a presence there, working the ground. For example, ZANU PF’s candidate in Mbare, Martin Matinyanya, was a councillor in the area and well-known in the local markets. In Wedza South, Tino Machakaire is popular for funding local projects – and an annual music festival. Both had more votes than Mnangagwa, reflecting the trend across many other constituencies.
In contrast, their leader’s poor five-year record – and his lack of charisma – didn’t help his cause.
Secondly, Mnangagwa put his “4ED” and FAZ affiliates at the centre of his campaign, sidelining the grassroots party structures that carried him in 2018.
Chamisa vs CCC MPs: Outside court on nomination day, June 21, Chamisa told reporters: “We are a Presidential republic, and our campaign is going to be basically Presidential.”
The party’s campaigns are centred around Chamisa, whose charisma and popularity make him an easy sell, better than his MPs. His MPs have to ride on Chamisa and the party identity.
Because of many voters’ thirst to vote ZANU PF out of power, they vote for whatever CCC candidate is on the ballot. They recognise Chamisa and his party symbol. The MPs? Not so much. In constituencies where “fake” CCC candidates were fielded, their split totals often matched Chamisa’s. This showed that CCC voters didn’t really know who their “official” MP candidates were, but they knew Chamisa and the party symbol.
For Chamisa, his party depends on him. In ZANU PF, meanwhile, the president relies on his party.