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Key findings
  • Most Zimbabweans (78%) support elections as the best way to choose their leaders.
  • A similarly clear majority (73%) say Zimbabwe needs many political parties to ensure that voters have a real choice.
  • Majorities think their elections work well to enable voters to remove leaders who don’t do what the people want (59%) and to ensure that members of Parliament reflect voters’ views (53%).
  • More than eight in 10 citizens (81%) say that once an election is over, the losing side should accept defeat and cooperate with the government to help it develop the country, rather than focus on holding it accountable.
  • Fewer than half (44%) of Zimbabweans say their 2018 election was largely free and fair. One in three (33%) say they feared intimidation or violence “somewhat” or “a lot” during the campaign.

As Zimbabwe’s highly anticipated 2023 general election beckons, rallies and other campaign activities are in full swing, all promising change to a citizenry in the throes of economic despair (Mahvunga, 2022; Zimbabwe Mail, 2022; Mukundu, 2022).

In a repeat of the 2018 race, the main contenders for president are incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and challenger Nelson Chamisa of the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) (Stratfor, 2023; Institute for Security Studies, 2022). Both parties have embarked on enormous voter-registration drives spanning urban and rural regions of the country (Dube, 2023). Civil society organisations and other political parties have added their voices to the call for voter participation (Channel Africa, 2023).

The competition promises to be stiff, if the 2018 poll is anything to go by. Although Mnangagwa was declared the winner by 50.8% to 44.3%, the country waited three days for the result to be announced, a delay that critics attributed to electoral fraud and voting malpractice (Africa News, 2023; Chitiyo, 2018; Dwyer, 2018). The elections were the first since the removal of Robert Mugabe from the presidential seat after 37 years in power, a watershed moment that was expected to set the country on a new course and bring renewed hope to the people of Zimbabwe (Mail & Guardian, 2018; Bearak, 2018).

As they ready to vote again five years later, how do ordinary Zimbabweans see their elections, multiparty competition, and the integrity of the balloting process?

The most recent Afrobarometer survey findings show that majorities value elections and multiparty competition. Only a minority of citizens consider their 2018 elections to have been free and fair, and trust in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is generally weak. But most feel free to vote as they want and express confidence in ballot secrecy.

Among Zimbabweans who say they may or will vote in 2023, policy preferences emerge as the most important factor affecting voter decisions, although a majority of citizens also say they favour candidates from their own province.

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Simangele Moyo-Nyede

Simangele is a research officer Mass Public Opinion Institute