What’s Behind the MDC-T’s Fall in Popularity?
Three years into an awkward coalition, ZANU-PF is pursuing populist policies
and, according to polling, support for the MDC-T is diminishing.
BY ANDREW MAMBONDIYANI
A survey reporting a drop in support for the Movement for Democratic
Change-Tsvangirai party (MDC-T) has led to much soul-searching within the
coalition government partner.
Three years on from the 2009 Global Political Agreement (GPA) – under which
President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC agreed to share power
with Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister – the MDC-T’s popularity has,
according to the Freedom House poll, fallen while ZANU-PF’s has risen.
The coalition was formed after elections in 2008 in which Tsvangirai
withdrew from the presidential run-off, having won the first round, citing
persecution of his supporters. Mugabe was thus elected president unopposed
though amidst international condemnation.
Zimbabweans voice their opinion
The survey of Zimbabwean public opinion – commissioned by USA-based NGO
Freedom House and led by South African political analyst Susan Booysen and
the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare – was the most recent in a
series of three conducted since September 2009 thus allowing for the
observation of trends. A nationally representative sample of 1198 adult
Zimbabweans was asked about a range of topics including political power,
elections, fear, violence, the constitution, and socio-economic conditions.
Interviews were carried out in all ten provinces in each respondent’s
language of choice.
Asked who they would vote for if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow,
47% of respondents said they would not vote or refused to indicate who they
would vote for – this was up from 41% in 2010. Of the 53% who declared their
preference, 20% said they would support MDC-T – down from 38% in 2010 – and
31% said ZANU-PF – up from 17% in 2010.
Why the fall in popularity?
Various factors could have resulted in the decline of MDC-T support since it
became part of the coalition government.
A senior and founding member of the MDC-T, speaking to Think Africa Press on
the condition of anonymity, admits that the fall in support could be the
result of poor performance by councillors and ministers. “Our councillors
have been fingered in various corrupt acts and some have been fired by the
party”, he explains. “This has greatly tainted our image as a party. Though
we have acted on the corrupt councillors, the electorate is not entirely
convinced. This survey is a wake up call to us as party.”
He continues: “Of course we cannot entirely blame our ministers in the
coalition government because some were given sensitive ministries like the
Finance Ministry and Public Services. Look how Finance Minister Tendai Biti
is blamed for almost every negative thing in the country while Public
Services Minister Lucia Matibenga is blamed for the plight of civil
servants. This is unfair and the electorate at times does not understand how
government operates, hence people say MDC ministers are not performing.”
Political analyst Tendai Mudzunge, on the other hand, suggests that it was
joining ZANU-PF in government that compromised the MDC-T in the eyes of the
“MDC-T’s popularity was centred on failure by the ZANU-PF government, but
now that the party is in government they can no longer blame ZANU-PF for
government failure”, he says. “The party thrived on being an opposition
party. ZANU-PF has dragged MDC-T in the mud and all parties are now dirty.
Zimbabweans were expecting MDC-T to perform miracles in government, but now
that no miracle has been performed the electorate is losing faith in the
Offering another perspective, independent economic consultant John Limani,
suggests that ZANU-PF populist economic policies – such as the campaign to
force foreign-owned companies to surrender majority shareholdings through
community share trusts – are the reason behind ZANU-PF’s resurgent
popularity. “MDC-T seems to be against the economic indigenisation and
empowerment, which to some people might look like the party is against black
empowerment”, Limani explains. “ZANU-PF has received widespread support from
poor Zimbabweans on the economic empowerment drive.”
A wake-up call for the MDC?
While ZANU-PF has accepted the favourable findings of the opinion poll, some
within the MDC-T have been less willing to take the research at face value.
MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora, for example, said that surveys carried out
under current conditions were difficult to rely on due to the fluid nature
of Zimbabwean politics and opinion and called for a degree of measure in
looking at the research. “Given the margin of error acknowledged in the
report, it is difficult to rely entirely on this report to gauge the opinion
of the people of Zimbabwe on their political choices”, he said. “We note
that a lot of people interviewed refused to disclose their political
ZANU-PF central committee member Chris Mutsvangwa, however, comments:
“historically it [Freedom House] put out findings which were supportive of
the MDC-T, which used to embrace them as an objective organisation. Now that
the news is no longer what the MDC-T is expecting of them…they are beginning
to denounce it.”
Indeed, many people have warned the MDC-T to take the survey seriously.
Political analyst Phillan Zamchiya, for example, believes that instead of
dismissing the poll, the MDC-T must work to rectify its mistakes.
“Confronting the elephant in the room rather than being dismissive is for
the party’s own ultimate good”, Zamchiya writes, adding that there are a
number of issues in the report “that the MDC-T should seriously consider in
order to turn the tide in the next election”.
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