ZIMBABWEANS believe MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa could deliver jobs if elected to office at the end of the month compared to his rival and incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
A survey commissioned by respected Pan-African think-tank Afrobarometer and undertaken by locally-based Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), shows that this could be the most closely fought election. Despite Chamisa’s disapproval of how the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has handled the pre-election process, public confidence in the poll management body remained high.
Chamisa, who took over the leadership of the MDC-T following the death of former premier, Morgan Tsvangirai, has left no stone unturned, projecting himself as the fresh face of the democratic struggle.
“To Chamisa’s credit, however, his vigorous efforts to introduce himself to the electorate have apparently begun to pay off. Instead, on the core issue in the campaign – job creation – he has established a more favourable public reputation than his chief rival (Mnangagwa).
“Asked about ‘who will do a better job in creating jobs for the people’, respondents said that Chamisa outranks Mnangagwa by 10 percentage points (42% vs 32%). The remainder either ‘didn’t know’ or refused to answer (18% combined) or said ‘neither of them’ (8%). It is, therefore, possible that perceptions of Chamisa as a more capable job creator – correct or not – probably help explain the MDC’s recent gains in party identification,” the survey showed.
Opinions, according to the results of the survey, remained sharply divided along partisan lines, with urban respondents favouring Chamisa while their rural counterparts think Mnangagwa was well-placed to change their fortunes for the better. Respondents, the survey indicated, seemed to also have ignored Chamisa’s so-called “childish antics”.
“At the same time, popular trust in the opposition leader and his party and alliance seemed to be on the rise – from 40% of citizens interviewed in early May to 48% in early July. Nor does he (Chamisa) seem to have been badly hurt by naïve gaffes or over-enthusiastic campaign promises,” Afrobarometer said.
The survey showed that Chamisa has whittled down Mnangagwa’s lead to 3% with a 2% margin of error, adding that it was “impossible to rule out the possibility that Chamisa had taken the lead”.
MPOI executive director Eldred Masunungure, while admitting there was a chance for a run-off, said the election could be decided by the leading parties’ ability to marshal their supporters to the polling booth.
“The winner will be dependent on which of the two leading parties (Zanu PF and MDC Alliance) has shown greater organisational ability. That in my view will be decisive,” Masunungure said.
But University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Ashton Murwira said the survey indicated a widening of the political space and the possibility of “a free and fair election”.
“This is indicated by the people’s confidence in the government and the Zec. There could be change in perceptions given the salary adjustments to civil servants.
“This is a great indication, but not the results. The final will come on July 30, the environment is fluid. There is a possibility of a run-off or even an outright winner,” Murwira said. With an expected 80% voter turnout, Afrobarometer in its survey argued that Zanu PF has shown greater organisational capacity.
“Throughout the campaign, more citizens reported attending ruling party than opposition events. In early July, for example, twice as many people said they had attended a Zanu PF meeting or rally (34%) than an MDC-T party or MDC Alliance gathering (18%), a 2-to-1 gap that had held steady from early May onward.
“The gap was especially wide in rural areas (by 4 to 1), notably in Mashonaland Central (6 to 1). But in all likelihood and despite a countrywide campaign blitz by Chamisa, the opposition continued to face a persistent organisational and resource disadvantage against a State-funded ruling party,” the survey added.
Another analyst, Tony Reeler argued that Chamisa could actually be leading by now and pointed to support from former President Robert Mugabe and respondents who did not reveal their preferences.
“If 80% will vote, then it means 4,8 million will vote. Given 36% said they associate with Zanu PF and 34% for MDC Alliance, this will translate to 1,7 million for Mnangagwa and 1,6m for Chamisa and 1,4 million who we don’t know who they will vote for. Individually 40% (1,9m) for Mnangagwa, 37% (1,8m) for Chamisa and 20% (about 800 000) of uncommitted votes. The issue is on the uncommitted and I will guess that it’s enough that the gap is closed. While there could be a run-off, I would say there is a probability of a clear winner, but it’s not going to be Mnangagwa,” Reeler said.
Reeler said the country was moving into a “highly complex political situation” with questions around whether the military will accept a result they do not favour.
Some 2 400 respondents were polled, with some 53% indicating they trusted Zec was doing a good job in preparing for the election.