FREEDOM House, the United-States non-governmental organisation which conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedoms and human rights, last week released results of a controversial public opinion survey, mainly indicating the MDC-T’s popularity was plunging ahead of crucial elections.Editor’s Memo: Dumisani Muleya
By contrast the survey says Zanu PF is recovering from years of decline. The study polled a sample of 1 198 adult Zimbabweans between June 23 and July 7.
Topics addressed included political power, elections, fear and violence, the constitution, and socio-economic conditions. The survey follows similar Freedom House polls conducted in November-December 2010 and September 2009.
The survey, commissioned by Freedom House and conducted by South African political analyst Susan Booysen and Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, says Zimbabweans remain anxiously uncertain about the political future of their country.
Findings from Change and ‘New’ Politics in Zimbabwe say despite widespread optimism the next elections will bring change, many Zimbabweans continue to fear the lead-up to polls will be characterised by heightened levels of political violence and intimidation.
However, the key findings of the survey show 47% of respondents said they would not vote, or refused to indicate who they would vote for (up from 41% in 2010). Of the 53% who declared their choice, 20% said they would support MDC-T (down from 38% in 2010) and 31% Zanu PF (up from 17% in 2010).
Responses from different political parties, civil society groups and analysts were varied and attention-grabbing. Some approvingly endorsed the survey, others angrily rejected it, while certain stakeholders were sceptical. Yet others reacted with paranoia and conspiracy theories.
In the end, it appears Freedom House, accused of being a US foreign policy instrument and linked to the CIA despite no such evidence in public, has thrown the cat among the pigeons, leaving a lot of people worried.
Zanu PF was divided on its take. The reformist wing said it was good as it revamped the battered image of the party and shored up its popularity ahead of elections. Hardliners, prisoners of their own propaganda, had no choice but to dismiss or at least be coy about it.
Even the state-controlled media, Zanu PF’s propaganda platforms which have dismally failed to influence voters’ choices judging by the party’s persistent defeat in urban areas where state mouthpieces occupy vast swathes of public space, were confused about it.
In the MDC-T, the survey wreaked havoc. The party’s top leadership, which in the past endorsed favourable Freedom House surveys, had no choice but to grudgingly accept the bitter pill to swallow. However, others tried to discredit it, forcing their bosses to come out and clear the air to avoid charges of hypocrisy and denial.
Conspiracism was also prevalent. Those who push it say the survey is a plot aimed at either lulling Zanu PF into a false sense of security (in the process helping the MDC-T), leaving it to suffer a shock defeat, or an indication Western powers have now ditched the MDC-T and want to work with a reformed Zanu PF.
Some conspiracy theorists claim the survey is designed to put MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai on notice that he has become a liability and will be dumped in favour of secretary-general Tendai Biti. They see the survey as a product of a secret plot to redefine the electoral landscape ahead of elections to achieve hidden political agendas.
Booysen argues it reflects the current political environment and trends since the formation of the inclusive government. Biti’s piece in the media yesterday concludes as much.
Whatever the case, certain issues are clear. The MDC-T involvement’s in the unity government — some say joining the gravy train — has undoubtedly damaged its reputation. The party is now seen as part of the problem, not necessarily a solution in many respects as it has been tainted with the same brush as Zanu PF.
The MDC-T now stands accused of leadership and policy failures, incompetence and corruption, service delivery miscarriage, as well as detachment from reality and the masses. This feasibly explains the survey’s findings.
It is possible Zanu PF is benefiting from the MDC-T’s decline. But the explanations given for the party’s purported recovery, which include land reform, indigenisation and other such controversial policies, leave a huge credibility gap and somewhat impugns the contentious findings.
Although the MDC-T must take it seriously and confront the elephant in the living room — its plunging popularity — analysts have to interrogate the findings. Otherwise, it could be premature and irrelevant as findings could only be meant to justify methodology. But in the absence of alternative material, the survey stands despite paranoid reactions from all over the place.