Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
President Mugabe has been retained by the country’s electorate out of trust, not fear, managing to keep his closest rival Morgan Tsvangirai at bay, an authoritative think-tank has concluded.
The latest Afrobarometer paper released this month titled “MDC-T defeat in Zimbabwe: Was it only due to intimidation?” debunks the vaunted “fear factor” and says President Mugabe is voted into power due to his performance.
The paper, in fact, demonstrates that the MDC-T may have actually reaped from such fear rather than lose in the last elections, as people were likely to vote Zanu-PF out if it engaged in violence.
It says: “Regarding the role of political intimidation and violence, the more a respondent expressed fear, the less likely she/he was in 2009 to express an intention to vote for the Zanu-PF. The opposite was true in 2010. The situation changed again in 2012, when those who were fearful of violence were more likely to vote for the MDC-T than for the Zanu-PF.”
The elections held in July 2013 were hailed largely as peaceful, free and fair.
“Overall, fear is a significant factor, but less important than other factors, in predicting voting intentions,” Afrobarometer concludes.
“Interestingly, positive evaluations of government management of the economy in the 2010 and 2012 surveys translate into intended Zanu-PF votes. . . ”
Afrobarometer notes that since 2009 when the country had the inclusive Government, President Mugabe’s approval ratings have been increasing, doubling even, whereas Tsvangirai’s ratings have fallen.
“This study highlights some important factors related to the MDC-T’s declining political fortunes in Zimbabwe,” says the paper. One key issue arising is the need for a rethink within the political opposition and civil society regarding the perception that the MDC-T’s recent electoral defeat was wholly due to electoral manipulation, fraud, intimidation, and violence.
“While electoral fear matters, much of the MDC-T’s defeat had to do with changing evaluations of, and trust in, government leadership: a slight decline for then-Prime Minister Tsvangirai and a massive gain for President Mugabe. The irony here may be that while it was the actions of the MDC-T in the GNU that helped stabilise the country, it was (President) Mugabe and Zanu-PF that benefited electorally from this arrangement.”
The paper then demonstrates how the fortunes of President Mugabe and his nemesis have contrasted sharply.
It states that statistics show that while, “(President) Mugabe’s approval ratings were on an upward trend, more than doubling, Tsvangirai’s were on a downward drift.” Like public assessments of the two leaders’ performance, the public’s trust shows contrasting fortunes. . . the proportion of Zimbabweans who said they trusted (President) Mugabe “a lot” or “somewhat” was at a low of 37 percent in May 2009, but then rose to 61 percent by July 2012.
“On the contrary, trust in Tsvangirai was at a high point of 78 percent in May 2009 but declined to 63 percent by July 2012.”
The paper explains that, “the perceived performance of the President was a crucial predictor of voting intentions; naturally, the higher one rated the President’s performance, the more likely one was to vote for Zanu-PF.”
“The President’s perceived performance was a strong predictor in all three survey rounds, but had its strongest impact in 2012. Similarly, trust in the President was a key predictor of the intention to vote for Zanu-PF across all three survey rounds, with the strongest impact in 2012.
“This helps explain why the Zanu-PF candidate managed to retain power with a larger margin than in previous elections. Not only were (President) Mugabe’s performance evaluations and trust levels improving, but these very issues were also, over time, becoming increasingly likely to translate into support for Zanu-PF.
“Trust in the prime minister was also an important predictor in the 2012 survey; naturally, the higher the trust in the prime minister, the less likely the respondent was to vote for Zanu-PF. Perceived performance of the prime minister seems to have had a major impact in 2010, but was weakening by 2012.”
Corruption and poor service delivery by the MDC-T and Zanu-PF’s good policies are the difference between the parties, says the paper.
“This may have led voters to doubt the party’s ability to run the country any differently than Zanu–PF. Others contend that the Zanu-PF’s populist policies, such as the indigenisation of foreign-owned companies, won public sympathy, while the MDC-T’s opposition to this policy was painted as evidence that the party was against black empowerment.”
Various studies before and after the July 2013 elections have shown President Mugabe edging Tsvangirai in popularity. This is despite the fact that the country is under Western sanctions designed to hurt the economy and make the people vote President Mugabe out of office .