A survey by a Zimbabwean pollster indicates a majority of people in the country want the opposition to participate in elections expected in March, despite expectations of problems. The main opposition party has threatened not to participate in any elections, unless certain electoral reforms are put in place, a threat that has provoked widespread debate.
The survey, carried out by the Mass Public Opinion Institute, indicates that two-thirds of Zimbabweans oppose a boycott of the election. Among respondents who said they are members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, slightly more than half are opposed to a boycott.
The MDC is demanding that the government 'level the playing field' by adopting the Southern African Development Community guidelines on democratic elections. The organization, known as SADC, is a grouping of 14 southern African countries, and Zimbabwe is a signatory to the electoral guidelines.
The government has said it will introduce some changes as required by the guidelines. Among these are limiting voting to one day, introducing transparent ballot boxes and counting ballots at polling stations. The opposition is, however, unhappy with plans for President Robert Mugabe to appoint the chairperson of the electoral commission. More than half of those polled are opposed to the president appointing the chairperson.
Roughly three-quarters of the respondents are not convinced that the government is able to ensure that the voting can be done in one day. This probably has to do with the fact that many voters failed to cast their votes during the 2002 presidential election, which was run over two days.
Of those polled, two-thirds want Zimbabweans living abroad to be allowed a postal vote. In a bid to raise foreign currency, the government has recently embarked on an aggressive campaign to get Zimbabweans living and working abroad to send money to their relatives through the banks, rather than through the black market, where the exchange rates are more attractive. Some estimates put the number of those working abroad as high as two million.
While the survey was being conducted, the MDC announced it was suspending participation in any elections, until the promised reforms are implemented. The government says it will implement the election reforms.
The survey was carried out in both urban and rural areas, and the intended sample was 1200 people. Just over 900 were interviewed, because people who claimed to be veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war and other apparent government supporters prevented the pollsters from finishing their work.
Opposition spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told VOA that the party consulted widely before taking its stand. Party President Morgan Tsvangirai said the rigging of next year's election is already in progress. In a report by the independent Zimbabwe weekly newspaper, The Independent, Mr. Tsvangirai charged that a government committee is re-drawing district lines to favor the ruling party.