IF the recent Freedom House public opinion poll survey is anything to go by, then the outcome of the next elections is very difficult to predict even though President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF, given their fascist record and economic failure, are generally not electable in a genuinely free and fair ballot.
Without political violence, intimidation and coercion, as well as manipulation of the process and results in one way or another –– their electoral mainstay –– there is simply no way Mugabe and Zanu PF can still win peaceful and credible elections. The security state is now their pillar of support and last line of defence. Without that, Mugabe and his party will simply collapse under the pressure of electoral challenge, especially if opposition forces don’t split votes, like a deck of cards.
However, it is important to pay more attention to scientific findings than unempirical public sentiments alone, no matter how suspicious and unconvincing they might be. It is also crucial not to forget Mugabe and Zanu PF still have residual support on the ground to mount a rearguard battle despite losing elections in March 2008.
Yet the findings of the Freedom House survey clearly show we must exercise caution in reading new political trends, possible voting patterns and predicting the next election results. In terms of the declared survey-based support, it appears the MDC-T has been plunging in support, dropping from 38% to 20% in 2010 and 2012, respectively, in a short space of about 18 months. In contrast, Zanu PF has experienced a dramatic recovery, climbing from 17% to 31% in the same period.
However, the survey had an important rider or qualification. “It is essential to bear in mind that a total of 47% of the respondents did not declare their voting intentions in this 2012 survey,” it says. “The percentage includes those who declared their vote to be their secret. Analyses in the rest of the report show that this undeclared category does not veil a systematic party orientation. Rather, should these persons vote in the next elections, their support is likely to be diffused across party categories.”
Similarly, the findings are not direct indicators of election outcomes –– they are snap shots in conditions of fluidity confirmed in declared support for all the political parties, both major and minor.
This is very important. What this simply means is that no party can claim to have a commanding majority on the ground now in terms of popular support when almost half of potential voters are undecided. This shows that the next elections will be up for grabs, never mind that on a level playing field without rough play and dangerous tackles Mugabe and Zanu PF cannot possibly win fairly. These findings point to the volatile political dynamics of this transitional period Zimbabweans are grappling with. We are in a state of flux, anything can happen in short period of time and things are unpredictable.
The inclusive government era shows this. Whereas Zanu PF was deeply unpopular in 2008 due to the political and economic meltdown and the MDC-T was riding on the crest of a wave of popular support, the timeout since February 2009 has produced unimagined situations.
The credit which has accrued to the coalition government for resuscitating the economy and restoring political stability is strangely going to Zanu PF, the very same party which had caused turmoil in the first place. This sounds illogical because the MDC-T must be reaping the peace dividend, not Zanu PF. Those are the vagaries of politics. Quite apart from this, one would have expected the MDC-T popularity ratings to rise or at least remain steady but they are plunging largely because of the party’s leadership and policy failures, coupled with ineptitude and corruption, according to the survey.
But the volatility of the situation arises from this: “Zimbabweans are showing the evidence of having been torn in all directions in the transitional period.”
People are not sure on what to believe and how to relate to shifting political and economic circumstances. They vacillate between appreciation for improved economic conditions and condemnation of the inclusive government.
They leap from great anticipation that the next elections will bring more definitive change to the reality of their politically tormented sides. They proclaim free and fair elections are in the offing, yet express fear violence and intimidation are looming. The survey illuminates these complex, nuanced and evolving positions Zimbabweans hold today, showing it is difficult to say what will happen in the next elections.