- Opposition can ignore findings at own peril
- Political parties urged to address weaknesses
ZIMBABWE’S opposition parties, which are in the process of forming a grand coalition to mount a united challenge against President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party in the 2018 elections, cannot afford to ignore the latest findings by a Pan-African research group which, once more, favoured the incumbents, analysts warned this week.
This follows the publication by Afrobarometer, last week, of results of a national survey conducted in Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), which results show that about two-thirds of Zimbabweans (64 percent) trust President Mugabe.
This is the second survey by Afrobarometer to gauge trust levels among Zimbabweans in as many years, the previous with generally similar findings having been published in 2015.
Joy Mabenge, a political analyst, said it would be folly on the part of the opposition parties to disregard the survey results.
“I think any argument that dismisses the latest findings from Afrobarometer/MPOI survey on the basis that it will give ZANU-PF (an) upper hand is a lousy argument. You have been given the pulse of the nation 15 months ahead of an election. Take the findings, interpret them and identify your weaknesses and get busy to convince people by addressing key areas!” Mabenge said.
“There is more trust in the President in rural areas (69 percent) than urban centres (55 percent) claiming that they ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot’ (trust the President). It is also important to note that the public trust the President (64 percent) more than they do the ruling party, ZANU-PF (56 percent),” said Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan research think-tank that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in Africa.
The survey results also show that half of adult Zimbabweans (50 percent) reported that they trust the electoral management body, which is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
There are about eight million adults in Zimbabwe’s population of just over 14 million.
Masvingo province has the highest proportion of adult Zimbabweans (67 percent) who claim that they trust ZEC “somewhat” or quite “a lot” with Bulawayo province having the least trust (28 percent).
At the same time, the findings indicate that almost three-quarters of adult Zimbabweans trust religious leaders and non-governmental organisations the most in the country.
The least-trusted institutions are the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and opposition political parties.
“Thirty six percent of adult Zimbabweans say they don’t have trust in the opposition political parties.
“Religious leaders command ‘a lot’ of trust among Zimbabweans with almost three quarters (72 percent) saying that they trust them while only a few adult Zimbabweans (32 percent) have faith in the opposition political parties.”
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai recently entered into a pact with Joice Mujuru, leader of the National People’s Party, and Welshman Ncube of the smaller MDC faction to work together in their attempt to wrest power from President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party at the polls which are due next year.
“We must not dismiss the Afrobarometer survey results but work harder to surprise our sceptics,” said MDC-T senior member, Tapiwa Mashakada.
“Thanks to the survey I think my colleagues will agree with me that we are now even more motivated to win the elections. We are not deterred as the survey has given us more impetus to confront the regime with better policy alternatives and strategies to win.
“Indeed, we are going to win provided there are electoral and political reforms to level the playing field. From the onset we knew that we are in it for the long haul. We will beat ZANU-PF. We will beat (President) Mugabe. We have the resolve.”
He, however, pointed out that being a scientific study, the survey failed to reflect on the fear element among the people, which is translated into support for President Mugabe and his party.
“I think the results are disappointing because they do not capture the mood in the country. However, we must accept that this is a scientific study and it betrays our foolishness as a people. We do not need a rocket scientist to tell us that Zimbabweans are too afraid to confront their situation and confront their destiny. How long do Zimbabweans need to suffer in order to see that we are a failed State?”
When Afrobarometer and MPOI published similar results in mid-2015, from a survey that had been conducted in November 2014, the MDC-T acknowledged the importance of the findings.
“The MDC-T takes very seriously scientific studies which help to inform us of the political environment in which we operate. As such, the MDC-T will always take its time to thoroughly study the recent report that was published by MPOI working in conjunction with Afrobarometer,” the party said in a statement.
“Naturally, the MDC-T will use the report to inform its strategies going forward. These types of surveys assist us in providing data on the electoral environment.”
The main opposition party should have learnt the hard way after ignoring similar findings from a survey by Freedom House in 2012 — just a year before the 2013 harmonised elections — which gave President Mugabe and his party a favourable view, which it (MDC-T) pooh-poohed.
The dire consequence of casually dismissing the findings was the comprehensive defeat of the opposition in the 2013 harmonised elections.
Susan Booysen, a South African academic respected for considerable thoroughness, authored the 2012 Freedom House report.
Its findings were dismissed by the MDC-T, but encouraged ZANU-PF.
The results showed that the popularity of the MDC-T had, from 2010-12, dropped from 38 to 20 percent—whereas ZANU-PF had risen in popularity from 17 to 31 percent.
Of all the respondents, 52 percent trusted ZANU-PF, whereas only 39 percent trusted the MDC-T.
It surveyed 1,198 people, with a margin of error of 2,8 percent, at a 95 percent level of confidence.
The poll sought to extract a comprehensive picture of voter intentions and, above all, voter opinions, which had never been attempted before in Zimbabwe.
Although 47 percent of respondents declined to declare a voting intention (a figure widely used to discredit or minimise the importance of the survey), Booysen was able to point out that these respondents were ‘diffused across party categories’ and were, to an extent, comparable to floating voters in the surveys preceding metropolitan elections.
In other words, even those with previous party affiliations were prepared to wait and see, and judge, on performance and persuasion factors as the full term of coalition government expired and the election announced.
Professor Stephen Chan and Dr Julia Gallagher both researchers from the University of London, who co-authored an upcoming book, Why Mugabe Won, say the head-in-the-sand attitude, in which the opposition preferred to be told what it wanted to hear only, proved costly as the MDC-T did nothing to reverse the trend, let alone try to woe the 47 percent undecided voters.
“The MDC was alarmed by the survey — but did nothing to remedy its image or its underlying faults. Neither did it begin to strategise how to capture the 47 percent.”
The book said after being held in high esteem by Zimbabweans, all this trust was lost in the first three years of their involvement in the inclusive government when they fell far short of what was expected of them as an alternative to President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF.
“The descent into greed, without the introduction of dynamic new policies that could be identified with the MDC’s role in government, meant a huge disappointment for those who had supported Tsvangirai and his party in 2008,” the book says.
“A clear warning sign, expressed in the most scientific language possible under Zimbabwean polling conditions, was released on 18 August 2012. This was the Freedom House survey of voter intentions conducted from June to July 2012,” the book says.
“Over our breakfast in a Bulawayo guesthouse, a businessman from Harare explained how he lost faith in the MDC by comparing the leadership capacities of Tsvangirai and Mugabe. For him, and for many Zimbabweans, the idea of Mugabe as leader, and his clearly apparent qualities, make it difficult to accept what many see as an inferior replacement,” the authors wrote before quoting this businessman saying: “I think when it came down to it, people do still respect Mugabe. They want him to be what he was. He is very impressive — his intellect, the way he touches people. I think people want him to be their liberation leader again.”