bull mango

Zimbabwe: Poll suggests election is headed to a runoff

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Zimbabwe votes

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on July 21, 2023 10:36

Emmerson Mnangagwa Zimbabwe
Tight race: Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa may not have as much support as the polls indicate, say critics. (AFP/Jekesai Njikizana)

Afrobarometer’s latest polling shows an uncomfortably tight race for President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

The latest polling out of Zimbabwe points to a possible runoff in next month’s presidential race, with incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa falling short of the 50% plus one vote needed to win in the first round of voting on 23 August.

The survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), Afrobarometer’s partner in the southern African nation, shows Mnangagwa leading at 35% against opposition leader Chamisa’s 27%. More than a quarter (27%) of eligible voters surveyed in the 10 July poll declined to disclose their preference.

Meanwhile, a staggering 85% of Zimbabweans feel the government has performed badly in addressing economic problems, corruption and unemployment.

Shocking results

Tinashe Gumbo, a Zimbabwean academic and political analyst based in Nairobi, calls survey results showing the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) in the lead shocking, given the country’s dismal economy.

Zimbabwe has the highest food inflation in the world at 264%, according to a 2023 World Bank report.

“The economy is in a shambles, there’s no medicine at hospitals and there is very high food inflation,” Gumbo says. “The current environment surely does not point to a Zanu-PF win, unless it is a forced win. Any reasonable Zimbabwean cannot vote for a party that has presided over economic decay for more than four decades.”

Gumbo says the sampled population in the Afrobarometer survey could be mostly people who are benefiting from Zanu-PF social programmes.

“The survey participants could have indicated a Zanu-PF win out of fear due to past elections that have been violent,” he adds.

Zimbabwe has a history of political violence, and the MPOI survey reveals that 59% of Zimbabweans fear falling victim to it during the election.

‘Consequently, some people vote to ensure “peace” in communities, given that 50% of respondents said past elections have led to violence in their neighbourhood,’ the MPOI survey found.

In addition, confusion in the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) means people may not know the opposition candidates.

“Zanu-PF had already begun campaigning and was more visible than the CCC, which was still working on its internal processes at the time the survey was done,” Gumbo points out.

Headed to a runoff?

Gumbo predicts that a runoff will only happen if presidential aspirant Saviour Kasukuwere is allowed to run. The former Zanu-PF member has been barred by the High Court from contesting the presidency and has launched an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Certainly, Kasukuwere could determine the outcome of this election, if the courts allow him to participate, as he can eat from the Zanu-PF plate and split its vote,” Gumbo says. “It will be a tight race. Those that supported Kasukuwere are emotional right now, to the extent that they might want to punish Zanu-PF by voting for Chamisa.”

If the election is between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, there will be an outright winner

Methuseli Moyo, a political analyst based in Bulawayo, however, predicts an outright victory by Zanu-PF. He says the CCC lacks institutional organisation, which limits its effectiveness in challenging Mnangagwa.

“They [CCC] are effectively a one-man operation in the form of Chamisa. They have no national, provincial, district or branch structures,” Moyo says. “That will cost them dearly. On the other hand, Zanu-PF works as an institution and appears organised.”

Moyo says that there can only be a runoff if Kasukuwere is allowed to run and manages to attract a meaningful vote.

“If the election is between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, there will be an outright winner,” he says.

Missing voters

For Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust executive director Ignatious Sadziwa, the main reason behind political parties’ failure to garner an absolute majority is the shrinking number of new voter registrations.

“Civil society was curtailed by government censure to mobilise people to register to vote,” Sadziwa tells The Africa Report. “There are three million eligible voters that are unregistered. As a result, a runoff election is inevitable since there is an insignificant number of new voters.”

Another reason for Zanu-PF’s edge is the issue of resource mobilisation.

“As the incumbent, Zanu-PF has access to national resources while the CCC has no [government] funding,” Sadwiza says. “We cannot read much into pollsters in Zimbabwean elections because respondents do not feel at liberty to disclose their political affiliation in this polarised and violent political environment.”

Bad news for CCC

Researcher Phillan Zamchiya unpacked the MPOI Afrobarometer survey in a report. He describes the results as a wake-up call for the CCC to change its approach to the forthcoming elections.

The survey shows a 7% decrease in support for Chamisa since June 2022, Zamchiya says, “the first decline in Chamisa’s vote since he became leader of the opposition”.

When Chamisa took over from the late Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018, only 16% expressed their intention to vote for him, Zamchiya says. But this had more than doubled by June 2022, to 33%.

“Also of significance is that Chamisa’s vote used to be far ahead of his party, but the gap has closed to 1%,” he says.

Support for Mnangagwa had declined since he took over from the late President Robert Mugabe in a military coup in November 2017.

“At least 38% of surveyed citizens expressed intentions to vote for him in 2017,” Zamchiya says. “By June 2022, this had dramatically gone down to 30%.”

Zamchiya assumes that the 27% of voters that refused to disclose their preferences likely feared expressing their political affiliation, but this doesn’t guarantee they will vote for Chamisa.

Undecided voters

Predictably, the CCC disagrees.

Interim organising secretary Amos Chibaya says the 27% who preferred not to disclose their preference are likely to be CCC supporters.

“They did not indicate their political preferences because they fear being targeted,” Chibaya tells The Africa Report. “They fear losing land, food handouts and other benefits that rural people get from the government.”

He says Zanu-PF supporters are unafraid to disclose their political affiliation. As a result, he says, the CCC is “confident” of outright victory in the first round.

“That is why we told our supporters to take a ‘bull mango’ approach whereby they pretend to be Zanu-PF but vote for the CCC to avoid political violence,” a reference to the tropical fruit that is green on the outside and yellow inside.

“Our supporters are encouraged to be green outside by attending Zanu-PF rallies, wearing its regalia and chanting its slogans to protect themselves, but on voting day, they become yellow to vote for the CCC.”

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