Zimbabweans have very low confidence in key institutions involved in the management of elections amid growing fears that the July 30 polls will be manipulated, a survey by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) has revealed.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
The country will be choosing only its second leader since independence in 1980 at the forthcoming polls after long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was toppled in a coup in November last year.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from his mentor after an ugly succession war in Zanu PF, wants to use the election to cure a legitimacy crisis created by the involvement of the army in Mugabe’s ouster.
Mnangagwa has to contend with Nelson Chamisa (40), a young rival, who has galvanised the splintered opposition since taking over from MDC founding leader, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, in March.
Chamisa’s MDC Alliance argues that the only way Mnangagwa will win the July 30 polls will be through manipulation of the vote by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
And the ground-breaking survey by the ZCC released yesterday appears to bolster the opposition’s claims after the majority of respondents said they did not trust Zec.
The survey — titled, 2018 Harmonised elections: Prospects for democratic transition in Zimbabwe — was conducted between March and April this year.
ZCC conducted the research through its member churches in all provinces and engaged in “community-level dialogue to discuss hopes, aspirations and expectations for the 2018 elections”. Field surveys were carried out in Bulawayo and Midlands.
One of the major reasons for the survey was to capture “how voter behaviour and incentives to participate are defined within Zimbabwe”.
Zec, which is battling to shake off allegations that it is trying to swing the election results in favour of Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu PF, was not viewed in good light by the sampled potential voters.
“There is a pattern emerging from the data, which shows that confidence levels among people with regard to key players in electoral management like ZEC and the government itself are low,” reads part of the executive summary of the survey report.
“This has a direct bearing on how the electorate perceives the overall electoral climate and political environment.”
Mnangagwa is promising a free and fair election, but has dismissed calls by the opposition to have electoral reforms before July 30.
The ZCC said the results of its survey showed that prospective voters doubted the government’s commitment to deliver a credible poll.
“While the president and government have made pronouncements towards reassuring people of the government’s commitment to free and fair elections, the response from this survey suggests that ordinary citizens doubt the sincerity of the pronouncements,” the report added.
“Only 42% of the respondents indicated that the government has taken significant steps to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible.
“Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the respondents indicated that the politicians always manipulate the electoral system to their advantage.”
Mnangagwa’s promise of a clean election is especially doubted by young voters, who, according to Zec, will make up most of the voters during the crucial polls.
“The survey showed that the youths are less likely to trust the government than the elderly,” Zec said.
“Only 14% of the youths expressed that they had a great deal of trust in the government compared to 24% of the elders who answered in the affirmative to the same question.
“This can be explained by the fact that the lived experiences of the young people in this country has been only of unemployment and poor service delivery while the elderly might have lived at a time when the government performed its function well before the economic woes set in.”
Zec insists that it is independent and does not take instructions from the government, but Chamisa says this week his supporters will take to the streets of Harare to press the electoral body to stop favouring Zanu PF in the run-up to the polls.
A staggering 58% of registered voters whose views were sought during the survey said they believed Zec manipulated elections in cahoots with powerful political forces.
“Therefore, 2018 elections provide a unique opportunity for the country to establish a lasting foundation for sustainable democracy by delivering a free, fair and credible election which would resultantly rejuvenate citizens’ trust of electoral processes in particular and national government in general,” ZCC said.
“It is a proven fact that mutual trust between the governed and the governing is instrumental in nation-building.”
According to the ZCC, Zec needs to demonstrate that it is impartial to inspire confidence in its operations.
“The ZCC calls on ZEC to discharge its duties impartially, in a manner that is transparent and inspires confidence in the electoral processes,” reads the report.
“This plea is supported by the survey finding in so far as the respondents revealed they have low levels of trust in the electoral body.
“Only 36% have confidence that the ZEC performs its functions independently, professionally and impartially.
“(At least) 59% of registered voters interviewed believe that ZEC works with certain parties and officials to rig results in different places around the country.
“Evidently, ZEC has to discharge its duties transparently towards engendering trust and confidence of the electorate.
“This reinforces the perception that ZEC is partial to a certain political party.”
Despite the low confidence among Zimbabweans in Zec’s credibility, there was increased interest in the forthcoming polls, the survey revealed.
“From the foregoing, it is evident that the 2018 harmonised elections have attracted huge interest from across all demographic, gender and other social groups and across all geographical areas in Zimbabwe,” reads the report.
“As a precious and yet a delicate resource, this spurt in citizen interest in elections will either make or break the future of Zimbabwe, hence the earlier assertion that the country has, through this election, an opportunity to establish solid foundations for democracy, peace and development.
“Therefore, the key question that remains unanswered is whether or not political parties, ZEC and other electoral stakeholders are prepared to facilitate and/or accept the will of the people,” added the report.
The ZCC said there was a 28% increase in people interested in elections compared to 2013 from across all age groups.
The survey also showed that Zimbabweans no longer trust the “public media” with only 27% saying they trusted the State-controlled media.
On the other hand, 43% of the respondents said they trusted independently-owned newspapers.
The army, perhaps boosted by its role in Mugabe’s ouster, ranked as the highest trusted institution at 66%.
Forty-one percent of the respondents said they trusted the judiciary.
“Although questions around trust of key institutions such as national government, judiciary and state media elicited mostly negative responses, citizens expect less violence in the coming election possibly as a result of government’s attempt to accord citizens some level of freedom of speech and to create a relatively more tolerant electoral environment than in the previous elections,” the report added.
“However, freedom of speech and political tolerance are entitlements, which every Zimbabwean should rightfully enjoy.”
ZCC said the high levels of trust in the military by respondents could be directly linked to the coup.
“This relatively higher level of trust in the army by the citizens may have been occasioned by the euphoria of the November 2017 events, which saw an unusual coalescence between citizens and the army against what was perceived to be the common enemy — former president of Zimbabwe, Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” ZCC said.
“Fifty-nine percent (59%) of the respondents think that most of the time people in government cannot be trusted to do the right thing while 65% are of the view that government does not care about their views nor do they have a say over what government does (60%).
“Such a trend partly explains why citizens’ trust of key government institutions in general has been on a downward spiral for the past two decades.”
ZCC also found out that Zimbabweans expected the forthcoming elections to be peaceful compared to the previous polls.
“Forty-eight percent (48%) of the respondents reported that they are fearful about the 2018 elections,” the report says.
“Further to earlier revelations regarding the prevalence of fear of intimidation and violence amongst respondents from Midlands, the majority of the respondents (54%) from that province are more fearful of the 2018 elections than those from Bulawayo (43%).
“Fifty-one percent (51%) of females (compared to 56% of males) reported being fearful of the coming election.
“Thus, fear still remains a key factor in this election despite the general improvement in the election environment.”
Meanwhile, the majority of respondents in the survey believe politicians do not fulfil their promises once elected into power.
“The electorate strongly felt that those elected to parliament soon lose touch with the people (80%),” added the report.
“Both men and women who responded to the questionnaire actively held this view — 81% and 80%, respectively.
“This is despite the fact that respondents acknowledged that during electoral campaign periods, political parties and candidates discuss issues that really are of interest to voters (68%).
“On this issue, 69% of male and 68% of female respondents held the same view.”
At least 65% of the respondents felt that political parties were influenced by people with money.