Gibson Nyikadzino Herald Correspondent
There is a misconception among some Zimbabweans whose cognitive frames are blown away because they want to read events in isolation.
This subjective reading of events and scenarios has, on several occasions, left them with contrite souls when reality appears. They disregard context.
A Wednesday survey published by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) which Zanu PF spokesperson Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa described as a “straw poll” is the one that really needs contextual interpretation.
At face value, the ‘findings’ of the MPOI Afrobarometer appear as done in sincerity, but at the same time, the survey presents a flawed process regards the time it was conducted.
There are two key things that need not to be overlooked.
The survey, conducted between March 28 and April 10, 2022, comes at the time Government has admitted the burden of external factors affecting the functionality of the economy such as the imported inflation from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The survey was also conducted at a time the country had the March 26 by-elections.
Technically, the election hangover and euphoria obtaining at that moment also influenced the responses with little stability and rationality. Of essence, we are not told how many of the 1 200 respondents of the survey were registered voters.
Sometimes a poll’s sample is incorrectly “weighted”— in other words, the demographics of the voting population was not reflected in the pool of people surveyed.
In these circumstances, the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and their backing vocalist non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have celebrated an isolated ‘finding’ that 33 percent of the respondents would vote for the CCC leader Nelson Chamisa against 30 percent for President Mnangagwa.
A straw poll it is indeed! The night of political activity and strategy is long.
The official outcome of the 2023 elections will reveal the reality that Zanu PF does not commit strategic blunders or tactical errors.
The failure to understand the context this survey was conducted makes its findings a base of indiscriminate collections of people’s opinions to try and build perceptions built on a poverty of thought.
What the CCC non-governmental organisations have not highlighted is one survey outcome that will be at pains for them to understand or translate to institutional reality.
Chamisa’s popularity, according to the Afrobarometer survey, is equated in the context of religious leaders.
His popularity, therefore, cannot be claimed as one of a politician, but a religious leader whose knowledge of ecclesiastical teachings is individually informed and not institutionally governed. This individual popularity is not aided by any institutional support.
The biggest damage this exercise may have done is to injure the CCC, a political faction of the MDC-T, a project of populism and non-democratic endeavours.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dying glory
It has become conventional wisdom that the world is facing a populist wave that is somehow threatening democracy.
Populists, especially those in the opposition, want to claim a monopoly of the people. The journey to power for populist leaders, either in Zimbabwe or any place in Africa, should be one that is stopped by all necessary democratic instruments.
Of course, the Zimbabwean political tide is seemingly running against the populists who carry the mandate of Western countries.
Where populism has failed in Europe, it is being imported to Africa. Evidence of its failure in Italy, the USA, Belgium, France and the Netherlands shows its replication in Zimbabwe will suffer a stillbirth or a miscarriage.
Think about a person who claims they are a democrat and want to occupy the highest office of the land. At the same time, that person attacks the judicial system, the legislature, the police, journalists, mainstream media, gags his fellows’ right to free speech and expression.
Besides attacking national institutions, the same person also attacks every other leader and view other power contenders as illegitimate. Opposition leaders such as Professor Lovemore Madhuku, Douglas Mwonzora, Dr Thokozani Khupe and others who have been to the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) have been arrow targets of Chamisa.
Only him has the legitimate contestation of power.
Also, they use the Nebuchadnezzar mind that only “me” has the mandate of the people.
People vs “real people”
The common unifying feature of the more dangerous type of populism the MPOI survey has blindly bestowed on Chamisa is that he develops a polarising message, dividing citizens as “people” and “real people”.
That is the symptomatic weakness of populism as we have seen it in this context fronted by the CCC. Chamisa has tried to re-invigorate a view that has opened the avenue to how undemocratic he and his backers are.
That is what populism is about.
It is a movement and belief that attacks the whole constitutional-institutional infrastructure to which a democracy is built. Populism is an attack on democracy and also an attempt by people with ideological incongruencies to assume that they will be in power.
A danger to democracy
Like any other populist, Chamisa believes him alone represents what populists in their parlance call the “real people” or the societies of the silent majority. This, however, is an anti-pluralist gesture dangerous for Zimbabwe’s democracy in two key ways.
Chamisa has always said that all citizens who do not share the CCC’s conception of the supposedly “real” people and also those who do not support him politically are not in any way a constituency of the people.
As a populist, to him it is never enough that in a democracy, democratic players can have policy disagreements, which is normal, but those that do not support him are either corrupt or they do not work for the people.
Populists say they do believe in democracy and that they are the last real believers in democracy. But there cannot be democracy without pluralism. In trashing this pluralism, Chamisa attacks journalists, the mainstream media. In essence, these attacks are on the rule of law and they damage democracy itself.
There are no rewards to this kind of politics even when they are sanitised by “straw polls”, no one should fall for their story.
Populism is opportunism. It is the zero mentality that rejoices as the whole society descends into chaos and conflict triggered by those behind it.
Trouble with polling
Less than two weeks before election day in the USA in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign held a clear lead in the polls. One thing, these straw polls are unable to accurately measure voter turnout. They may be of value to some who are excited with a single man’s popularity, but their misleading outcomes will be measured on the day voters’ turnout to elect their leaders.