HARARE - Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured) has a solid 34-percentage point lead over Zanu PF presidential candidate President Robert Mugabe in a new survey ahead of the make-or-break election on Wednesday.
The opinion poll by respected US firm, Williams and Associates of Salem, found that 61 percent of Zimbabwean voters favour Tsvangirai compared to 27 percent for Mugabe.
The survey, held between March 28 and April 5, 2013, was compiled from 800 interviews conducted across the country’s 10 provinces, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3,5 percent.
The majority of Zimbabweans (67 percent) think that Mugabe, 89, should step down and let another candidate represent Zanu PF.
“At 61 percent, MDC-T shows it has potential support from across the political spectrum with the exception of hardcore Mugabe voters,” says the report.
“The 27 percent favourable for Zanu PF matches the result of Mugabe’s support among his voters in 2008, that is he does not appeal to voters outside of his own personal core support.
“Polling clearly demonstrates that Zanu PF, with Mugabe at its head should not win...and this effect should also filter down, with negative effect to the parliamentary level. It could be argued then that Zanu PF’s electoral chances would be better with a different candidate who might appeal to a wider voter group.”
In his campaign speeches, Tsvangirai has been promising a convincing win in the July 31 vote against a foe he derides as the epitome of Zimbabwe’s economic disaster.
While earlier surveys have consistently showed that there will be a fierce battle between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the Massachusetts-headquartered think-tank found that Tsvangirai, 61, is the best hope of unseating Mugabe after failing to remove him through the last two presidential ballots.
Tsvangirai has embarked on a nationwide tour intended to deepen his support and improve his poll standing.
The survey found that of the country’s 10 provinces, Tsvangirai leads Mugabe in seven —Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Harare and Bulawayo. Mugabe only leads in Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Midlands.
“By contrasting past turn-out with the present support levels it is highly unlikely that Mugabe could get even close to winning — he lacks critical mass,” the survey says.
The major wild card is Mugabe’s health. The veteran ruler insists he suffers from cataracts and treatment is going quite well.
The Zimbabwean leader prefers treatment in Singapore because he is guaranteed discretion in the tightly controlled Asian State and can lean on the counsel of his friend Mohammed Mahathir, the former Malaysian ruler.
In contrast with other high-profile figures around the region such as Nelson Mandela who have suffered frailty, Mugabe has not allowed doctors or others to give much official information on his own condition.
Beyond vague descriptions of seeking medical help for a nagging eye problem, details have been scant, leading to a frenzied rumour-mill and criticisms of excessive secrecy.
Mugabe’s health problems, associated with advanced age, have played into markets and raised expectations of a change of government. Mugabe managed to run 10 energy-sapping rallies across the provinces, albeit scaled back, whereas Tsvangirai is projecting an image of youth and zest.
Tsvangirai has continued to capitalise on Zimbabwe’s growing social and economic problems, warning the electorate that they faced a return to economic hardships if Mugabe was re-elected.
Tsvangirai, a centre-left politician campaigning on a platform of creating a million jobs, ending corruption and solving grassroots economic problems, wants to bring Western-style progress to Zimbabwe, with free-market economics alongside strong social welfare programmes.
Mugabe, known for his radical populism, nationalism and fierce anti-Western rhetoric, has called him a puppet of the West.
Underlining the polarised nature of Zimbabwean politics and the tense atmosphere this year, Tsvangirai has accused Mugabe of trying to rig the vote saying he was still to be furnished with important election-related information on the eve of the poll.
“The voters’ roll has not been availed to us; we don’t know who is printing the ballot papers,” Tsvangirai said.
“We don’t know where those ballot papers are being printed.”
But Mugabe has rejected allegations that he is planning to rig.
“We do not want observers to go away with the impression we won because we were using violence,” Mugabe said last week.
“That must be avoided. Let just the numbers talk. I am confident there will be minimal violence.”
The latest clutch of opinion poll has been disappointing for the ‘regime preservation’ camp, analysts note.