Support for Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition has declined considerably, while the popularity of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, has risen significantly according to a new public opinion survey from Freedom House, the international rights watchdog.
“Zimbabweans have not given up on hoping that the given moment of turnaround to a democratic and human-rights-driven system will be unleashed come the next constitution, the next referendum or the next election,” the report said. “However, many of the orientations emerging from the survey reveal cynicism and doubt about leadership deals, government and public institutions.”
Zimbabweans are “anxiously uncertain” about their country’s political future, the survey concludes:
Findings from Change and ‘New’ Politics in Zimbabwe revealed that despite widespread optimism that the next elections expected in the first half of 2013 will bring definite change, many Zimbabweans continue to fear that the lead up to elections will include heightened levels of political violence…..Zimbabweans are showing the evidence of having been torn in all directions in the transitional period.
They have been scarred by the party political wars since the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from late 2000 onwards first posed an electoral challenge to the Zimbabwe African National Union?Patriotic Front (ZANU?PF).
Zimbabweans, as represented in this stratified?random and nationally representative sample, are not sure it seems on what to believe and how to relate to political and economic circumstances. They veer between praises for economic conditions that have improved and condemnations of the Inclusive Government (IG) when they move to more general?level assessments.
They leap from great anticipation that the next election is the one that will bring more definitive change to their lives to concrete assessments that reveal more of their politically tormented sides. They proclaim that free and fair elections are in the offing, yet express similar levels of fear of electoral violence and intimidation than they had in the past. The 2012 survey results illuminate these complex, nuanced and evolving positions that Zimbabweans hold today.
“Freedom House is encouraged by Zimbabweans’ obvious enthusiasm about the upcoming elections despite the lingering fear of violence,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “These findings should serve as bellwether for what citizens are expecting of their future political leaders and how both political parties can define their policies to adequately address these expectations.”
But the survey results provide “sobering” reading for Zimbabwe’s democratic forces, say analysts.
“It shows us M.D.C. is not only in a seriously bad position but the extent to which that is spread across the country and the provinces,” said Susan Booysen, a political scientist at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who devised and conducted the survey. “Perhaps they think they are crown prince that need only wait for Mugabe to go for it to fall in their lap. This is a wake-up call for them that there is no honeymoon.”
The results did not necessarily predict how each party might fare in forthcoming elections. But they are sobering for the opposition, she told the New York Times:
Support for the Movement for Democratic Change, or M.D.C., the main opposition party, has fallen from 38 percent in 2010 to 20 percent this year among voters who declared a preference, the survey found.
The M.D.C. cast doubt on the survey’s findings, the Times reports, saying that almost half the respondents declined to reveal their voting preference. Over the same period, by contrast, support for ZANU-PF grew to 31 percent from 17 percent, the survey found.
Key findings of the survey include:
47% of those who said they will vote in the next elections stated ‘this is the election that will make the difference’. The largest block of respondents, 45%, said the Zimbabwean people will be ready for elections in the first half of 2013. 85% are ‘sure’ or ‘very sure’ that they will be casting their ballots in the next election.
A total of 35% respondents in this survey (compared with 16% in 2010) now believe that the next round of elections will be free and fair.
65% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that ‘fear of violence and intimidation make people vote for parties or candidates other than the ones they prefer.’ Respondents’ actual experiences of violence have decreased, however, with 22% reporting incidents of violence in their communities from 2010-2012, a drop from the 58% who reported the same between 2008-2010.
While Zimbabweans still positively assess the Inclusive Government (IG) on a variety of issues, its positive ratings are substantially less positive than in 2010. In contrast with 2010, survey respondents are now greatly more critical of IG’s ability to assure Zimbabweans freedom to speak about political matters openly. 44% now state the IG is doing ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ in assuring freedom of speech compared with 9% who gave this response in 2010.
The most serious problem Zimbabweans confront is unemployment. Approximately 2/3 of Zimbabweans are formally unemployed, and the effects are felt strongly at both community and national levels.
Zimbabweans have become more critical of their political leaders. While 40% said they trusted political parties ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ in 2010, this has dropped to 30% in 2012. Based on the responses of the 53% of survey participants who agreed to state their political choices, trust in MDC-T, in particular, dropped from 66% to 39%, while trust in ZANU PF rose from 36% to 52%.
When asked who they would vote for if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, 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 preference, 20% said they would support MDC-T (down from 38% in 2010) and 31% ZANU PF (up from 17% in 2010).
The M.D.C. questioned the veracity of the survey’s findings, noting that almost half of respondents were reluctant to state a voting preference.
“Surveys carried out under current conditions are difficult to rely on due to the fact that they are held under conditions of major fluidity,” said Douglas Mwonzora, an M.D.C. spokesman. “A lot of people interviewed refused to disclose their political preferences. This is obviously for fear of intimidation and the violence they have been subjected to.”
Freedom House is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.