The inability of the united MDC in 2008, and a fractured opposition in 2013, to get more than 1.4 million-votes does not bode well for democratic forces in Zimbabwe, according to a report by the Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT)
The report, by renowned academic Brian Raftopoulos, acknowledges the uneven electoral playing field in the country, but paints a gloomy picture in the fight by the opposition to dislodge President Robert Mugabe from power.
ZANU PF has a history of using violence to beat its opponents into submission and this has been their modus operandi since independence.
In the July poll, an unprecedented number of voters feigned illiteracy, blindness or physical injury, which meant someone from ZANU PF marked the ballot on their behalf.
But despite coercion and handing out material benefits to voters, which helped ZANU PF win by more than two-thirds majority, the SPT report said the failure by Mugabe's combined opponents to break the 1.4 million votes since 2002 should be seen as a challenge to them going forward.
'In three out of the last four elections, ZANU PF has scored comfortably over 1.5 million votes, and over 2 million in 2013. The figures from the last five elections all point to the unlikelihood of any opposition party unseating ZANU PF in 2018,' the report added.
Statistics show that the MDC's support base is the same as it was in 2008, when it narrowly beat ZANU PF and largely remains the same since its formation in 1999. Raftopoulos said elections results since 2000 show some recognizable, if depressing trends.
'The MDC-T vote has remained consistent over the last decade in terms of numbers, while the ZANU PF vote has generally, with the exception of 2008, been several hundred thousand votes more than the opposition vote,' says the academic in the report.
Solidarity Peace Trust report on Zim election
Before the 2013 poll, the MDC-T controlled six of the ten provinces but now controls only two metropolitan provinces. The Morgan Tsvangirai led party suffered heavy losses in Manicaland and Masvingo, the two provinces they controlled with big majorities before the July 31st elections.
The analysis from the report also blames the split in the opposition for aiding ZANU PF's landslide victory. If it wasn't for the split voting in the two Matabeleland north and south provinces, the opposition would have retained 17 seats and kept Mugabe's majority in Parliament to 67 percent, instead of its current 79 percent.
But the SPT concludes that it couldn't establish whether the massive increase in the number of voters in many ZANU PF strongholds were 'irregularities' as the MDC claims, or whether this was a result, as ZANU PF's claims, of its energetic voter registration campaign over the last five years.
Oppah Muchinguri, the newly appointed Women Affairs Minister boasted a year before the elections that they had managed to register an extra one million voters, almost the exact figure that gave Mugabe and his party an unassailable two-thirds majority win.
Madonald Lewanika, a director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told SW Radio Africa that there are several factors that may explain why the opposition has failed to make significant inroads in rural areas to bolster its support base.
'The main issue is that of violence, intimidation and ZANU PF's use of traditional leaders to coerce the rural folk to vote for Mugabe. Villagers in rural areas live in fear of retribution if they vote otherwise,' Lewanika said.
Apart from the MDC-T, many other civil society organizations and NGO's have claimed that the July elections were 'clearly skewed' in favour of Mugabe due to his use of the police, military and CIO to run the elections.