Here’s hidden gem for next president

 Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda

Dar es Salaam. You have missed the point, those who view the recent Twaweza research on voting trends simply as pro or against them have been told. The key to the outcome of the 2015 polls is more likely hidden in the undecided voters. Still, those who are interested in contesting the election ignore the research at their peril.

Whatever the case, opinion polls do provide food for thought that may help voters chart their future more clearly. The approval rating of the current national leadership has dropped significantly–which may well mean that the people are not satisfied with the way they are governed.

“The instinct for politicians and other commentators to treat poll results as predictions of what will happen 12 months from now is strong, but misleading,” Researcher Aidan Eyakuze said during an interview with The Citizen on Sunday. “We have a year to the elections, which is an eternity in politics. Much can change during that time, including the emergence of candidates who are currently invisible, and that could completely change the nature of the competition.”

According to up-and-coming social commentator Remija Mtema, some people might dispute the research findings but there is a lot to learn there for interested parties.

The number of people who have not made up their minds on who to pick for national leader stands at 42 percent–a number much higher than the ratings for the nine top candidates.

Said Mr Mtema: “The headlines that followed the release of the results are sensational and good for selling papers. But they lack the kind of certainty we are looking for. For me, the key message from the citizens is this: ‘We have not made up our minds yet. We are open to persuasion. Come talk to us some more’.”

The message is simple and straightforward: Those who top the list of preferred candidates should not get complacent. Those who do not fare well have no reason to be despondent yet. And voters should not feel they have been rendered powerless by the research results.

Mr Aidan Eyakuze, who is the associate director of the Society for International Development, cautioned that these results are not cast in stone and are simply a snapshot of public opinion at a particular moment in Tanzania’s history–and that opinion can be changed by events that shape ordinary people’s experience and their expectations in the immediate and long term future. What the political parties do in the next 12 months will probably be more important for their election fortunes.

Another prominent commentator, Jenerali Ulimwengu, shares these views. He argues that the results are in the hands of undecided voters and adds: “When parties formally start the nomination process, we will see many more candidates than we know now. This will tilt the scales and we might end up with a candidate and winner we are not talking about at this point. Voters might be influenced by one or two events that happen between now and next year.”

According to Prof Kitila Mkumbo, the current leaders favoured by the research results should not celebrate yet as the same research shows that the people are not satisfied with the performance of their leaders. “Unfortunately, most of those who are leading in the opinion poll are current leaders,” he says. “With the high number of undecided voters, this sends a very clear signal that their lead might be cosmetic.”

Ms Mtema is disappointed that the results show that Tanzanians are not concerned about the performance and accountability of their leaders, preferring to go with the business-as-usual syndrome. She adds: “It is discouraging that Tanzanians do not associate accountability and loyalty with leadership qualities. I did not expect to see people with questionable backgrounds making it to the list of preferred potential candidates.”

Those on the list still have a long way to go, given that their individual support has yet to get to the level of half of those who have not made up their minds.