THE Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) on Wednesday released the Afrobarometer round nine survey on Zimbabwe.
The survey shows the incipient decline of the ruling Zanu PF’s leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the rise of Nelson Chamisa, the leader of opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).
If presidential elections were to be held at this juncture, the Zanu PF leader would lose to the CCC leader. The survey signals that 33% of respondents would vote for Chamisa against 30% for Mnangagwa.
This is only the second time that the Afrobarometer survey has shown an opposition candidate leading in Zimbabwe. The first time was in 2009 when former Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai led over the late Zanu PF leader Robert Mugabe. That was two weeks after the consummation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) and euphoria was high.
There is a systematic pattern in the decline of Mnangagwa’s vote. In 2017, when he took over as President in a coup, at least 38% of surveyed citizens expressed intentions to vote for him and five years later this has dramatically gone down to 30%.
On the other end, Chamisa’s vote has been growing exponentially. In 2017, only 16% freely expressed intentions to vote for him but this has gone up to 33% in 2022.
Chamisa has also taken the lead in the late Mugabe’s home province of Mashonaland West and Tsvangirai’s home province of Manicaland. Chamisa is leading by 38% to Mnangagwa’s 33% in Mashonaland West. In Manicaland, it is blood on the floor for Mnangagwa as he is trailing Chamisa by 58% to a mere 18%. Both provinces are dominated by rural constituencies considered to be the ruling party strongholds.
However, a significant number of respondents, 27%, refused to reveal their preference. This is not surprising in a repressive environment. A corpus of qualitative studies shows that in such authoritarian contexts, opposition supporters are more likely to fear expressing their political affiliation compared to ruling party members.
Nevertheless, part of the 27% can still swing the vote for Mnangagwa through programmatic delivery dividends in the next 12 months, the margin of terror (intimidation and violence) and or margin of error (through manipulating votes). The voters can also choose to vote for Chamisa through the margin of influence and marginal effect. There can also be the role of unforeseen events that can tilt the vote for example, death, accident, scandals et cetera.
Even the social contract between Mnangagwa and the citizens is also weakening. The trust for the President has gone down from 64% in 2017 to a mere 51% in 2022. On the other end, only 41% of respondents approved the President’s current performance in office. Even the trust for the ruling Zanu-PF was at 44% compared to 48% for the opposition.
The people are not happy about economic mismanagement, looting of natural resources like land and minerals, soaring prices of basic goods, the rise of domestic and gender-based violence, corruption and deteriorating infrastructure. Within Zanu-PF, there are 32% who do not believe that citizens have a voice in natural resource extraction. This is a portent for Zanu-PF supporters voting for another party as a way to express disgruntlement.
However, Zimbabwe seems incapable of running a democratic and legitimate election. More than a third of respondents (36%) do not believe that an election will be able to change the leaders who are not performing well. Only 50% feel completely free to choose whom to vote for. In these circumstances, without the needed political and democratic reforms, elections can be a mere ritual and fail to express the people’s will.
The survey is not all rosy for CCC. The electoral hype about generation consensus is still to yield the much-needed vote for the opposition. Younger respondents (54%) are far less likely to be registered as voters compared to their elders. Geographically, the voter registration is also low in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South. One hopes a special voter registration drive can happen alongside the ongoing government mobile blitz for civil registration.
Chamisa is also still fairing less than Mnangagwa in most rural-dominated provinces like Mashonaland East, Masvingo, Midlands and Mashonaland Central which remains an Achilles heel. In Masvingo, voter registration among respondents was as low as 42%. Yet turning the tide in Masvingo, as in Manicaland, will make it easier for Chamisa to consolidate the lead.
Now a brief synopsis on how the political parties might react to Chamisa’s current lead.
For Zanu-PF, this will possibly worsen intra-party contradictions within the party. New questions will be raised on whether Mnangagwa is the right man to lead Zanu-PF in the 2023 election. This will worsen divisions and suspicions between Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga leader-follower groups and Mnangagwa’s leader-follower groups. Second, the Zanu-PF elite and their military allies might regroup to defend the “revolution”.
This will mean a rise in authoritarianism to eliminate either ephemerally or collectively-organised dissent ahead of 2023. A wounded Zanu-PF is likely to increase the securitisation of party and State institutions, intensify efforts to infiltrate and decimate the CCC from the political map, target civil society activists and ensure their lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
This possibility calls for continuous societal mobilisation against the chicanery. Given that citizens risk being at the mercy of the bullet, this will require regional, continental and international support.
For CCC, we are most likely going to see Chamisa consolidating his authority, vision and ideas on the party. Those who doubted his strategies will be forced to retreat by the power of science, at least for now. Second, Chamisa’s political stature will continue
to grow nationally and he will remain the centre of any convergence politics.
Third, the survey gives Chamisa a psychological edge over the voter and those on the line. In this regard, it gives Chamisa more ammunition to persuade a doubting Thomas or a Benjamin the donkey. Nevertheless, Chamisa will still confront questions from his former MDC-T structures (from the branch to the top) and from other critical stakeholders on whether it is about him or about them too.
Fourth, it places an onerous political reality at the doorstep of CCC that should take them back to the political drawing board. As the survey signals, Chamisa might win the presidential vote but he also must stop Zanu PF getting the two thirds majority in Parliament it currently enjoys because in such a circumstance, it will be a herculean task for Chamisa to govern and deliver to the people not happy with the status quo.
For other opposition political parties, whether well-meaning or not, the survey shows that Zimbabwe remains a two-horse race. However, other opposition political party leaders might continue to hold on to political straws. Their first reaction is most likely to make reference to the 27% of respondents who refused to divulge their voting intentions. To them, this can signify the possibility of a third way. In my view, this is a self-soothing political position. Zimbabwe for now, will remain a two-horse race between CCC and Zanu PF. A third way can only emerge once Zanu PF is dislodged from power. This is because Zanu PF will not survive a day without State power given the conflation of the State and the party from the centre to the periphery.
So, the smaller opposition parties are likely to suffer defections to either CCC or Zanu PF ahead of the 2023 general election.
About the writer: Dr Phillan Zamchiya is a senior researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.