ED, Chamisa in statistical dead heat

HARARE - Zimbabwe's presidential race looked tighter than it has all year on Friday, a week before voting begins, as an Afrobarometer poll put the two frontrunners Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa in a statistical dead heat.

The latest voter survey may raise concerns about the outside possibility of a second round that pits Mnangagwa against Chamisa.

The election is one of the most unpredictable in post-independence history, as a groundswell of anti-establishment feeling and frustration at Zimbabwe’s economic malaise has seen a growing number of voters turn their backs on the ruling party.

Previous polls have consistently shown Mnangagwa would comfortably win.

But the most striking trend in past days has been the late surge in support for Chamisa, campaigning on a platform for economic revival and generational fundamentalism.

The latest polls show all scenarios are possible for July 30.

A second round with Mnangagwa and Chamisa remains the most likely hypothesis.

Mnangagwa is now leading Chamisa by just three points in the new national poll, within its margin of error.

Mnangagwa leads Chamisa 40 percent to 37 percent, among likely voters. There are also 20 percent of respondents who refused to state their voter preferences, and Chamisa claims these are his backers.

It means it has come down to a two-way race.

In a similar poll just three months ago, Mnangagwa led Chamisa by 11 points, and the gap has narrowed to three points. Chamisa is surging while Mnangagwa is stagnating.

This also comes as the credibility of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has been shredded, and the process will have to be looked at very, very carefully.

While all along there seemed to be a sense that the advantage is with the incumbent for a number of reasons, not only institutional bias but also the environment and manipulation, the sands seem to be shifting.

Of course, there is still a huge resource disparity between the two main contenders, with Mnangagwa’s campaign machinery well-oiled while his rival is grappling with a critical campaign funding shortfall.

We also need to understand the extent to which the observers are going to be waiting on these various environmental issues. Chamisa is clearly making some headway despite financial and other constraints.

These new findings from this scientific study mean we can no longer rule out alternative outcomes given the shifting dynamic on the ground.

There are also lingering questions about a flawed process being run by Zec which is feared could have an impact on electoral legitimacy and concomitantly the winner.

Besides meticulously exposing Zec’s shortcomings, this is a race in which Chamisa pressed Mnangagwa hard. But it remains to be seen whether Chamisa has managed to swing the crucial rural vote to his MDC Alliance.

His major focus has been on this area. At this stage, exact outcome cannot of course be predicted.

As for the Zec, this time it will be scrutinised by senior observer groups including the Europeans.

They will have far more robust criteria than what has usually been deployed by Sadc and African Union groups.

Zimbabwe has a history of unrest over disputed elections. A sitting president has never before been ousted through an electoral process and the prospect of this has fanned speculation the result could be distorted or even that the military might take control if Mnangagwa looks set to lose.

There is a spectre of another coup, but the large contingent of observers could stall that misadventure. Judging by the latest poll, the Zimbabwean society is now really divided 50-50 and it depends which voters are going to come and vote.

For the youthful Chamisa and his audacity of hope, it would be important that young people from big cities come to vote. The same applies to Mnangagwa, he needs to get his people out to vote as well. The last mile will be crucial.

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