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Zimbabweans ready to risk lives to vote in 2011, says Freedom House poll

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington - March 17, 2011 - A new survey of public opinion in Zimbabwe has revealed that despite the risk of higher levels of violence and intimidation associated with an election campaign, the majority of Zimbabweans would prefer to hold elections in 2011 rather than maintain the current government of national unity.

The poll, Changing Perceptions in Zimbabwe, was conducted by Freedom House and the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, and consisted of interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adult Zimbabweans during November and December 2010. The survey included questions on political power, elections, intimidation, violence, the constitution, and socioeconomic conditions.

"The message from this poll is striking - Zimbabweans want elections even though they expect elections to come with violence," said Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House. "The large numbers of respondents who have experienced violence, and who do not feel free to express political views, are very troubling. And we see the crackdowns continuing to this day, most recently on Zimbabweans who have expressed support for the pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East."

Key findings of the survey:

- About 11 percent of respondents stated that elections should be held "immediately," while another 46 percent chose 2011, meaning the total share of respondents who want elections this year is 57 percent.
- Respondents clearly stated that the constitution must be drafted and subjected to a referendum before elections.
- An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents report that they have to be careful about what they say, and that they do not feel free to express political views.
- Some 74 percent believe that fear affects how people vote, and 55 percent of respondents stated that fear of violence makes Zimbabweans abstain from voting.
- A solid majority of 58 percent reported that they had experienced violence and intimidation in their communities in the past two years.
- In comparison to the previous Freedom House survey, Zimbabweans are less optimistic about the future. In 2009, a strong majority of 65 percent felt that economic conditions in the country would improve in the following 12 months, while only 49 percent voiced similar expectations in 2010. In 2009, 63 percent of Zimbabweans reckoned that their own economic situation would be better after 12 months, but by 2010 this group had shrunk to 48 percent.
- Since the previous survey, the main faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has suffered an apparent drop in support, from 55 percent to 38 percent. President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party seems to have gained support, rising from 12 percent to 17 percent. Support for the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara has effectively disappeared, with less than 1 percent of respondents expressing their allegiance. The Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), headed by Dumiso Dabengwa, continued to receive the endorsement of less than 1 percent of respondents.

- Notably, some 42 percent of respondents chose not to declare their voting preference. This marked a substantial increase over the figure of 31 percent in 2009, and may stem from fear of violence.

Zimbabwe is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.

To view the full survey results, click here

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