Chamisa’s Rising Star: 10 Easy Lessons from Zimbabwe’s Pre-Election Survey

By Dr. Phillan Zamchiya


MDC Alliance leader and presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa

Reader, a pre-election survey was conducted 28 April-13 May 2018 by Afrobarometer in Zimbabwe. The results were published on 07 June 2018. Yes, it is useful in my view. The major finding was on voting intentions. If elections were to be held then, the results would be as follows: ZANU PF (42%), MDC T (30%), MDC Alliance Partners (1%), Other Political Parties (1%), 7% did not know yet and 19 % refused to answer. So how do we interpret the news from the Afrobarometer?

First, Chamisa’s political star is rising astronomically in this 2018 Presidential Campaign. The MDC T chances of winning the general election were at the lowest ebb in 2017. According to the last Afrobarometer survey released in July 2017, only 16% of respondents were ready to vote for the MDC T and 38% for ZANU PF. Now, 11 months after, 30% said they would vote for MDC T and 42% for ZANU PF. This means ZANU PF managed a paltry 4% rise in support from where former President Mugabe left. Whereas the MDC T, now under the dynamic leadership of Chamisa, managed a whopping 14% increase.

This is sweet news for democracy, given the unfair state financialisation of our electoral politics by the ruling oligarchs. Chamisa can hardly raise money for flash billboards but the low cost campaign is at least reaping dividends.

Second, the people of Zimbabwe want democracy that is a government by the people for the people in line with the opposition echoes. Reader, it is explicit in the survey that the citizens of Zimbabwe do not want military rule. 71% of respondents across all walks of life rejected military rule. The plurality of respondents, 68%, said the military is there for external defence and security of all citizens and must not be involved in the politics of Zimbabwe.

On the other hand, 84% said Zimbabweans must choose their political leaders through a democratic election and not through other means, you can read coups. Hence the calls for demilitarisation of our electoral politics by the MDC Alliance are in sync with the ordinary people’s aspirations. The military must be de-villagised and be confined to the barracks if the democratic aspirations of Zimbabweans are to be met.

Third, the urban-rural divide still reflects in political preferences. Chamisa is least trusted in the rural areas. Only 27% strongly like Chamisa in the rural areas compared to 58% for Mnangagwa. This means a lot of political work needs to be done in crafting and implementing a winning rural strategy. There are lots of internal and external factors that make the MDC T candidate least liked in rural areas as compared to urban areas.

Some relate to historical factors, perceptions about party ideology, fear factor, messaging, weaker structures in the marginalised hinterlands, identity of the opposition as an urban movement detached from the quotidian concerns of the peasantry and ruling party’s creation of rural buffer zones not easily accessible to the opposition leader. Reader, these can be overcome. However, in urban areas, Chamisa maintained a strong presence as 52% of respondents said they strongly like MDC T Chamisa. On the other hand, only 26% strongly like ZANU PF in urban areas.

Third, Chamisa is faring well in Harare, Bulawayo, Midlands North, Manicaland and not badly in Mashonaland East. Remember, Manicaland is a swing province so the MDC must cling on. However, as per the survey, Chamisa is struggling and most disliked in the following five provinces: Mashonaland Central (48%), Masvingo (46%), Midlands (36%), Mashonaland West (32%) and Matabeleland South (29%).

It is a paradox Chamisa’s star is not as bright as one would expect in Midlands and Masvingo. The boy is from Gutu and given ethnic identities in our politics, one would expect the Karanga to identify more with him. Not that it is a good thing but am only talking of the realities of our politics as studied. Perhaps, Mnangagwa, being also of Karanga origin, might be forging closer identities. Well, the best way is for party technocrats to go ask why in the five provinces and tailor-make short-sharp strategies soon!

Fourth, the MDC Alliance is doing the right thing to clamour for state media reforms. From the survey, most people are getting election information from Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Reader, this is because of their wider rural coverage. The majority of the respondents that is 26% relied on state radio and I tell you that is mainly Radio Zimbabwe. Previous surveys have confirmed the same. It is therefore imperative that voters are not given partisan poison by these state- owned radios. Even Zimbabwe’s 2013 general election SADC report recommended the need for media reforms. I hear the state media covered the MDC Alliance manifesto launch on 7 June 2018. Bravo! However, let it be institutionalised.

Fifth, kudos to Chamisa for demanding the institution of traditional leadership to be non-partisan. In fact, traditional leaders are the second source of election –related news after state-owned radios. Reader, from this independent survey, 15% of respondents said their main source of election-related information is traditional leaders. With the social power embedded in traditional leaders they play a big role in the entire election cycle. Worse, the survey is clear the traditional leaders have more popular trust (50%) than any of the political parties.

Politicised tribalisation as a mode of rule in the rural areas, with its genealogy in the colonial state, remains a thorn in the flesh of Zimbabwe’s electoral democracy. Most traditional leaders must therefore be put on check to ensure they do not act as local agents of ZANU PF. It was good for the Election Resource Centre to send Chief Charumbira to court over his partisan comments. Did Charumbira retract his statements?

Sixth, the survey confirms that Mnangagwa is not a very popular candidate. ED’s Achilles heel is that citizens of Zimbabwe have neither been charmed nor convinced by his same-old-new path. This is despite billions of dollars spent on Public Relations locally and internationally. Approval rating for ED is 49%. 62% of Zimbabweans believe the country is going in the wrong direction. 63% blame the Mnangagwa government for the wrong direction the country is taking. Even in the ZANU PF rural strongholds, 59% said the government is going in the wrong direction. You then wonder where the international optimism is hinged on. Less than 50% trust the President. This does not point to an invincible leader. With the right mix of electoral strategies an upset is possible.

Seventh, people lack confidence in the power of elections to effect change and in its democraticness. Reader, never mind respondents believed elections are the only means. Majority of respondents, regardless of who they will vote for, still think that ZANU PF will win the Presidential election. 44% of respondents fear that incorrect results might be announced. 31% think powerful people will find out where one votes. 32% still believe powerful people will use photos and fingerprints from BVR. 31% of respondents were asked to show their voter registration slip to someone else. 72% think voters must show BVR slips to vote.

Chamisa needs to instil more confidence in the people. He is not an analyst but a frontline soldier who must preach victory, inspire and convince people it can be done through an electoral process! For this is the path the MDC Alliance chose. On the other hand, civil society organisations must independently carry out voter education, otherwise the election results will be a reflection of structurally induced misinformation.

Eighth, the MDC Alliance managed to market its brand nationwide in a short space of time. It was the most known or most popular Alliance/Coalition during the survey. 57% of respondents knew MDC Alliance, 17% CODE and 16% People’s Rainbow Coalition. However, from this glance, it is clear the MDC T is still the most popular opposition brand in the country. Consequently, the leaders must do more to market the Alliance to every corner of Zimbabwe. This is because adopting the MDC T on the ballot is a gamble given the issue is still to be resolved in the courts of law that are not so independent. Another insight is that the third most liked party, the National People’s Party (NPP) is not in the Alliance.

Last but not least, some have interpreted this to mean another Presidential run-off. A possibility yes but that is not given. We do not know what 25% think, meaning either Mnangagwa or Chamisa can still get 50% + 1 vote in the first round. Others have insinuated that a GNU is therefore naturally in the making. Even if Zimbabwe gets a run-off on the 8th of September 2018 that will not mean another GNU. There is no such law. Only political considerations can drive Zimbabwe towards a second GNU. At the moment, I see no such prospects.

The military oligarchy buoyed by renewed international support, plagued by internal contradictions and with its hierarchy not feeling so well has a winner take all mentality. Read beneath and beyond. Any post-election GNU talk or signal from the ruling party is insincere, mere carrot dangling and a strategy to reduce the necessary pre-election noise from the opposition. So fight like there is no GNU! That’s it.

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