Zimbabwe: Rude Awakening for Tsvangirai

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) is under extreme pressure as recent public opinion polls revealed the party's waning popularity, which might diminish its hopes to unseat President Robert Mugabe during elections scheduled for next year.

The MDC-T's top brass has been stunned by the findings released by Freedom House, Afrobarometer and Zimbabwe Virgil indicating the voting patterns if elections were to be held soon.

The surveys induced some form of shock therapy to the MDC-T's national leadership, which has battled to deliver on its promises after joining the shaky inclusive government in February 2009.

The revelations came at a time the MDC-T's traditional allies, among them former white commercial farmers and disgruntled trade unions have ditched the labour-backed party ahead of make-or-break elections citing differences over policy issues.

Sensing danger ahead of the polls, the party wasted no time in dealing with malcontents within its ranks. Last week, the MDC-T dismissed councillors it accused of soiling the party's image through alleged acts of corruption.

The corruption dragnet also claimed the scalps of Harare deputy mayor, Emmanuel Chiroto and Gweru mayor, Tedius Chimombe.

Curiously, the MDC-T will also hold its belated 13th anniversary celebrations in Bulawayo this month-end, in a move viewed as a desperate attempt to pacify the restive Matabeleland region where the party is experiencing defections.

Still, the MDC-T's national leadership is divided over how to respond to the findings.

While MDC-T secretary general, Tendai Biti, believes the party must learn from its mistakes and prepare thoroughly for the elections, others have sought to rubbish the findings.

Douglas Mwonzora, the party's national spokesperson, is among those who trashed the surveys, questioning the inconsistencies in their findings.

First to give the party's leadership a rude awakening was a survey by the United States-based Freedom House. Titled; Change and New Politics in Zimbabwe, the survey shows that support for the MDC-T has fallen to 20 percent this year from a high of 38 percent in 2009.

Within the same period, support for ZANU-PF, the MDC-T's main rival, increased to 31 percent from 17 percent.

Then came another opinion poll by Afrobarometer titled Voting Intentions in Zimbabwe: A Margin of Terror?, which suggests that ZANU-PF has clawed its way back after its shock defeat to the combined MDC formations in the March 2008 harmonised polls.

Afrobarometer noted that the elections could turn out to be a close call between the two rival parties and could be a repeat of the June 2008 presidential election run-off.

Afrobarometer also warned that if elections were to be held under the prevailing political circumstances, State sanctioned violence could flare-up once more. According to the survey, the percentage of voters who feared political violence could flare up again increased to 88 percent from 80 percent in 2009.

United Kingdom-based Zimbabwe Vigil, a coalition of Zimbabweans campaigning for free and fair elections in the country, said in a commentary on the recent surveys concluded that the MDC-T was unlikely to be in charge after the next election. It said the decline in the MDC-T's support was linked to allegations of corruption that have tainted the party's image.

Underpinning ZANU-PF's comeback has been its countrywide mobilisation drive and programmes empowering the masses.

It would appear that the MDC-T has been caught up in the celebration of the marginal success it scored in stabilising the economy when it entered the inclusive government.

Rugare Gumbo, ZANU-PF's national spokesperson, said the surveys confirmed what his party had always known that the MDC-T had "nothing to offer the people of Zimbabwe."

But Mwonzora, MDC-T's national spokesperson, was circumspect, saying the findings were not reliable.

Reflecting on the Freedom House survey, Biti was of a different view. The MDC-T secretary general said the major lesson learnt was that the party needed to reconnect with its base and needs to carry out protracted programmes of mobilisation, advocacy, education, recruitment and delivery.

"We accept fully the message that the MDC-T does not have a God-given right to govern and that the MDC-T by action has to wake up and work for the support of Zimbabweans," he wrote last week.

Analysts said indications of a closely contested poll could see ZANU-PF and the MDC-T parties embarking on desperate measures to win in the next election, including violence.

"The next election would be a high-level political showdown, which, given Zimbabwe's history, is a recipe for violence and undue means will be used to win in the election," said Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst.

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