Analysis – How close is the Zim race really?

Morgan Tsvangirai MDC T Analysis – How close is the Zim race really?

Charity is a hairdresser in Harare, and Charity wants change. That is why she came to the MDC-T’s massive rally on Monday, two days before Zimbabwe’s crucial and tightly contested poll, taking place today.

“We have no business, money is not circulating, and I want that to change,” she says.

Despite wearing a red T-shirt and turning up with tens of thousands of people to listen to party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Charity asked that her real name not be used, “because they might come and look for me”.

Afrobarometer believes the reason why Zimbabwe’s pre-election opinion surveys are not far from lies and damned lies.

The pollsters did a survey in July last year in response to another done by New York-based Freedom House a month or two earlier, which found that Zanu-PF had 31% of support of the 53% who said they would vote (up from 17% in 2010) and MDC-T had 20% (down from 38%).

Afrobarometer changed the methodology for its survey. It found if the “margin of terror” was taken into account, that is the number of people who would rather not declare their support for MDC-T for fear of reprisals, the results were much closer. It found Zanu-PF would garner 32% of the vote and MDC-T would get 31%.

The only thing the opinion polls are agreed on is that it’s a two-party race and candidates like the MDC’s Welshman Ncube don’t stand a chance of winning, although they could turn out to be king makers.

Another important result, according to Afrobarometer, is that nearly a quarter of citizens refused to answer the question on who they will vote for at all, claiming their vote is their secret. This number is enough to swing an election. “The unrevealed preferences of ‘reticent’ voters – especially if engendered by fear of intimidation or violence – are critical to understanding the state of play in partisan politics in Zimbabwe,” the pollsters say.

The latest poll, done by US-based company Williams and Associates in April this year, interviewed 800 people across Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces and found that 61% of voters favour the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai above Zanu-PF’s Robert Mugabe for president.

Only 27% favoured Mugabe.

It might well be that Tsvangirai’s recent change of fortune has been owing to a good election campaign – evident at the rally on Monday where his supporters left drunk with hope. But because the MDC-T’s stronghold is the urban areas, any bias towards cities and towns would put Tsvangirai in the lead.

Disillusionment with the lack of reforms delivered by Tsvangirai’s entry into government in 2008 and his torrid love life could also account for the dip in his support in 2010.

Observers have used rallies and even social media networks to try to guess which party is leading, although these are unscientific.

It’s next to impossible to count crowds – even those who half fill a large stadium could count for a big crowd when sitting on an open field. And if you turn to cyberspace, internet penetration in the country isn’t high enough to give a proper indication of what people are thinking.

For instance, the MDC-T’s Facebook page has close to 50 000 “likes”, while that of Zanu-PF only has about 15 000. This doesn’t nearly reflect the opinion polls.

Tsvangirai is, however, doing well considering that he has the odds stacked against him. There is the “margin of terror” mentioned by Afrobarometer, although judging from the rallies where people have been seen fighting over MDC-T T-shirts, many are not afraid to be seen with him.

Observers say the run-up to this election has been acceptably peaceful.

Then there is the state-owned media with its downright propaganda in favour of Zanu-PF. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has been airing hours of Zanu-PF advertising and nostalgic documentaries about the country’s revolutionary history – a theme around which Mugabe has been styling his election campaign.

The government newspaper The Herald has been downright biased in its reporting. On Tuesday, the day after the massive rally by Tsvangirai, not a word was mentioned about it in the broadsheet.

The day before, however, coverage of a similar-sized rally by Mugabe, also in the capital Harare, got full front-page treatment.

If the election is to be judged by these two rallies alone, however, we’re in for a tight contest. While a different kind of energy, fun and a massive amount of hope infused the MDC-T rally, the Zanu-PF event was heavy on history, nostalgia and the patronage of incumbency.

It can be an uphill battle trying to defeat these, and the next few days, rather than opinion surveys, will tell if the opposition had enough energy to do so.

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