With less than a week before Zimbabwe’s general elections, public opinion surveys and unfolding campaigns show that President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are neck and neck, which is heightening the possibility of a run-off poll.
Patterns of support emerging from the ongoing campaigns and rallies and recent surveys by Freedom House and Afrobarometer show that next week’s elections will be a close call for the Zanu-PF party against the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T).
Judging by the political rallies, Mugabe and Tsvangirai have held across the country, the former is dominant in the three Mashonaland provinces, and the latter is influential in towns and cities, which include the capital Harare and Bulawayo.
Although Mugabe’s star rallies have attracted huge crowds, his forays into Harare, Manicaland and Matabeleland are unlikely to dislodge Tsvangirai’s dominance there. Mugabe still has a grip on Midlands Province, but Masvingo will be the battleground.
The surveys show that voting patterns and trends in the next elections will not dramatically change from those of the 2008 polls.
During the first round of polling in the 2008 presidential election, which was deemed relatively free and fair, Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai by 43.24% to 47.87%.
Although Mugabe lost the first round of voting to Tsvangirai in 2008, he won six out of 10 provinces. Tsvangirai only won four, but with huge numbers.
Mugabe won in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South, and Tsvangirai got Harare, Bulawayo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North. In terms of votes, Tsvangirai got 1 195 562 votes and Mugabe 1 079 730 – meaning the MDC-T leader won by 115 832 votes.
According to Afrobarometer, 32% of the 2 400 Zimbabweans it sampled said, if an election had been called last year, they would have voted for Mugabe, whereas 31% said they would support Tsvangirai.
Leader of the smaller breakaway MDC party, Welshman Ncube, had 1% of the vote, although his party in the 2008 election won the most seats in Matabeleland South. Simba Makoni, who was also its candidate of choice, got 8.31% of the vote. Ncube has gained some traction and could emerge as the kingmaker.
“Any future election in Zimbabwe remains too close a call,” Afrobarometer said. “No political party in Zimbabwe can afford to be complacent about an easy victory.”
Afrobarometer also said Mugabe and Tsvangirai might not win the presidential election outright in the first round, and suggests that another run-off is likely, although Mugabe would want to win the first round outright to avoid going up against a possible coalition between Tsvangirai and Ncube in the run-off.
Zanu-PF and MDC-T tied
In terms of party support, the survey said Zanu-PF and the MDC-T were tied with 31% each. In a similar survey in 2008, the MDC-T enjoyed a 57% support base, and Zanu-PF had 10%.
The Freedom House survey concluded “that in terms of the declared survey-based support, it appears the MDC-T has been suffering a decline in support, falling from 38% to 20% in the parliamentary vote from 2010 to 2012, in a period of about 18 months”.
“In contrast, the survey data point to Zanu-PF having experienced a growth in popular support, moving from 17% to 31% in the same period.”
The voting patterns in the parliamentary elections are also unlikely to change as rallies show that Zanu-PF and the MDC-T are holding fast in their strongholds.
In 2008, the MDC-T won all the seats in Bulawayo, 96.55% of the seats in Harare and 76.92% in Manicaland. In Masvingo, it managed to win 53.85% of the seats and in Matabeleland North, 38.46%. The party fared poorly in Mashonaland Central (11.11%), in Matabeleland South (16.67%), in Mashonaland East (17.39%), in Midlands (25.93%) and in Mashonaland West (27.27%).
Zanu-PF won 88.89% of the seats in Mashonaland Central, 82.61% in Mashonaland East, 74.07% in Midlands and 72.73% in Mashonaland West. In Masvingo, it won 46.15% of the seats and in Matabeleland North it took 30.77%.
The party made a poor showing in Bulawayo, where it won no seats, as well as in Harare with only 3.45%, in Manicaland (23.08%) and in Matabeleland South (25%).
The MDC only won seats in Matabeleland South (58.33%) and Matabeleland North (23.08%).
The 103 independent candidates fared badly. Jonathan Moyo, who has rejoined Zanu-PF, retained his Tsholotsho North seat in Matabeleland North. Other independents failed to win any seats in 2008. Their situation is unlikely to change much.
But analysts say there could be a winner in the first round. Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said Tsvangirai was likely to win.
“Having attended and observed the presidential election campaigns between the main political protagonists, Mugabe and Tsvangirai, and taking into account the political environment and electoral administrative factors, my interpretation of events is Tsvangirai will win.
“There are critical observations of the electoral process that have assisted my conclusion of a victory for Tsvangirai in this decisive election.The political environment in the run-up to the election is similar, if not much better than the March 29 2008 poll in which the MDC parties won the presidential and parliamentary elections respectively. This has helped Tsvangirai to traverse the breadth and width of the country campaigning.”
By contrast, Ruhanya said Mugabe was struggling on the campaign trail and has no message about the future, something Ruhanya thinks will lead to his defeat next week.
However, political commentator Ernest Mudzengi said, although Tsvangirai has the support on the ground, it was difficult to predict the outcome, given that Mugabe controls the electoral institutions.
“Tsvangirai has the numbers on the ground and at any given time he can defeat Mugabe in a free and fair election,” Mudzengi said.
“However, it is difficult to predict now that the playing field is not level because Mugabe and Zanu-PF control the electoral machinery, which in the past has worked to their advantage.”