A new survey showing that support for Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has waned over the past two years may provide more fuel for President Robert Mugabe's push for fresh elections and further harden his position against reforms.
The report, Change and New Politics in Zimbabwe, by rights group Freedom House, suggests the sharp distinction between Zanu-PF and MDC supporters is being blurred as "Zimbabweans are showing evidence of having been torn in all directions in the transitional period".
The report is based on a survey conducted in Zimbabwe between June and July this year.
"In terms of declared survey-based support, it appears the MDC-T [Tsvangirai's faction of the party] has been suffering a decline in support, falling from 38% to 20% in the parliamentary vote from 2010 to 2012." The survey indicated that Zanu-PF support was up from 17% to 31% over the same period. It also showed Mugabe had gained on Tsvangirai in terms of popular support.
The report has bolstered Zanu-PF. The party has grown bolder in recent months, blocking a key constitutional reform exercise and daring its ruling partners to contest a new election. The report will likely see Zanu-PF becoming even more resolute in its position – confirmed by party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo saying it had been vindicated in calling for elections.
Gumbo said the survey showed that the "people now realise the MDC has no agenda or policy to help them", which was why Zanu-PF was confident enough to call for fresh elections now. "It confirms everything we have ever said about them [the MDC]."
However, Freedom House pointed out that 47% of those surveyed did not declare how they would vote, a fact the MDC said showed how fear might have distorted the outcome of the survey.
"Given the margin of error acknowledged in the report, it is difficult to rely entirely on this report to gauge the opinion of the people of Zimbabwe on their political choices. We note that a lot of people interviewed refused to disclose their political preferences," MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said.
The survey polled about 1 200 people and carries a 2.8% margin of error. It found that life for Zimbabweans had "become less survival oriented" and 58% of those polled believed "things will be better or much better in another year's time".
But it is the MDC's apparent drop in support that has angered the party and it called a press conference on Wednesday to dismiss the report. Tsvangirai's allies claim it is a plot by foreign governments to undermine his leadership of the party.
The report suggests that the responsibility of governing has taken a toll on the MDC: "The MDC-T 'in power' – or with a bit of power in reach – has suffered under accusations that local MDC-T councillors are involved in corruption, in effect equalising the MDC-T and Zanu-PF."
Political analyst Charles Mango-ngera said Zimbabweans had harboured unrealistic expectations of the unity government and this had hit the MDC hard.
"But you also need to factor in the 47% that did not declare their party affiliation. My experience of opinion data from Zimbabwe is that such a high percentage is attributable to fear and in most cases it belongs to the MDC and not to Zanu-PF."