PRESSURE is mounting on the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) to get its act together ahead of polls slated for July this year after latest findings by a local research institute put the labour-backed party behind ZANU-PF in the race to win the next plebiscite.
The Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), chaired by University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure, is the latest in a string of respected pollsters to paint a sombre picture over the likelihood of the MDC-T causing an upset against ZANU-PF at the next polls after Freedom House and Afrobarometer predicted the same last year.
According to the results of the MPOI survey that analysed the voting patterns in the country's 10 provinces last November, if elections were held soon, ZANU-PF would get 33 percent of the vote, MDC-T would get 32 percent and the MDC led by Industry and Commerce Minister, Welshman Ncube would get one percent of the vote.
The other political parties, ZAPU led by Dumiso Dabengwa, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn led by Simba Makoni and the smaller MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara, would not get any meaningful votes.
Stephen Ndoma, the MPOI principal researcher, said the survey results suggest that the forthcoming parliamentary elections would be a closely fought battle between ZANU-PF and the MDC-T.
Thirty-three percent of the respondents said they would vote for a ZANU-PF candidate, while 32 percent indicated they would vote for an MDC-T candidate.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T spokesperson, however said there was no need for alarm over the recent MPOI findings, as the gap between ZANU-PF and MDC-T was minute.
"The difference between the number of MDC-T and ZANU-PF supporters is not significant and we are encouraged by those results. We are winning these upcoming elections; there are no two ways about it," said Mwonzora.
He indicated that an additional 20 percent of the respondents had refused to declare their political allegiance, and could well turn out to be MDC-T supporters who did not want to declare their voting patterns.
The disgruntlement in the MDC-T over the conduct of primary elections, alleged in-fighting and Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai's flip-flopping over policy issues and the love scandals that have dogged him in the past year are seen as the reasons behind the party's dip in political fortunes.
Hardliners in the MDC-T also believe PM Tsvangirai has become too comfortable with President Robert Mugabe in the coalition government, hence his concessions on a host of other major issues such as agreeing to tinker with the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee's constitutional draft, the unilateral pronouncement of the date for the referendum as well as this week's appointment of ZANU-PF stalwart, Jacob Mudeda, to replace Reginald Austin as the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
Supporters of the Ncube-led MDC said the MPOI findings were a severe indictment against the party which has been criss-crossing the length and breadth of the three Matabeleland provinces each week, in an attempt to bolster its support base.
Political analyst, Dumisani Nkomo, said the findings had their own limitations as expected with any survey.
"One needs to look at the patterns of support in terms of the geographical space and in terms of where the different political parties are strong. The margin of error may be large depending on those variables and factors", said Nkomo.
Nhlanhla Dube, the MDC national spokesperson, dismissed the findings as unreliable and said his party would continue its mobilisation programmes ahead of the harmonised polls in July.
"In a democracy anyone is allowed to publish anything to their desire and we protect their right to do that but their results are not anywhere close to reflecting the truth on the ground," said Dube.
The MDC this week hardened its stance against rumours of a possible alliance with the MDC-T, saying it would not repeat the 2008 attempt at an election pact.
"History shows that we have tried this route before. History also records that we went on a limb in attempting to find common ground with the MDC-T in 2008. History further remembers that we came out of that attempt the worse for wear, hence to us that was a lesson well learnt", it said in a statement.
The MDC-T, born out of the labour unions and student unions in 1999, has been unsuccessful in its attempt to dislodge President Mugabe from power, narrowly winning in the first round of voting in the March 2008 harmonised Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
The MDC-T pulled out of the June run-off in the same year, on grounds that 200 of its supporters had been killed by ZANU-PF supporters.
Political observers say the slide in the MDC-T's fortune came with the party's involvement in the unity government formed in February 2009.
Its weaknesses were greatly exposed, as several of its Members of Parliament were fingered in corruption allegations over embezzlement of the US$50 000 payouts under the Constituency Development Funds.
Furthermore, the jury has been out on the inability of the MDC-T to slam the brakes on ZANU-PF's belligerence, reflected by President Mugabe's continued unilateral appointment of key individuals into the structures of the State.
The premier's personal sex life which spilled over into the public arena last year, saw him lose critical moral standing from women rights groups and civic society campaigners with murmurs of a push for the MDC-T strongman to resign after the infamous revelations of his chaotic love life.