HARARE – President Robert Mugabe is stepping up his re-election drive ahead of Zimbabwe’s watershed elections making strides to appeal to a key pool of swing voters made up of women.
Mugabe remains confident he can win another term, and is proposing to establish financial institutions in rural areas known as “village banks” to lend money to women.
Mugabe, 88, faces tough competition from his younger main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, 60, who has suffered a dent on his popularity ratings among female voters over his handling of his previous love affairs.
While recent polls show the two candidates in a dead-heat, they also show that between 10 and 20 percent voters are either undecided or would not say who they supported.
Women constitute 52 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, making them a key target for Mugabe in the forthcoming vote.
Mugabe has been heaping praises on women to appeal to this key group as he seeks another presidential term that would extend his time in office to three and half decades.
Mugabe has gone to great lengths to appeal to women voters.
His flattery on women has been regurgitated ad nauseum on state television and made front page splashes to hammer the point home.
“We men are very bad,” Mugabe said. “We buy Mercedes Benz, suits, shining portfolios and compete to see who has the most recent model of a car. Women don’t speak that language. They ask themselves, are my children going to school?”
“Females are absolutely careful. If they were men, we would have long industrialised,” said Mugabe
In times of drought and economic challenges “women always make sure they provide for their families, but men are different”.
As the response at campaign events show, Mugabe’s appeal to women has become another asset, turning the ailing and ageing candidate into a kind of family values symbol.
On the stump, Mugabe has taken pot shots at Tsvangirai for “chasing after girls.”
The MDC leader says he would inject a fresh voice into politics and replace a bloated Zanu PF administration that has run out of ideas.
Tsvangirai also tries to reassure Zimbabweans that he will not take away the social programmes started by Mugabe and will manage a peaceful transition of power and set the country on a firm path to economic recovery.
“That Mugabe is warming up to women voters is just a vote-buying gimmick unlikely to hoodwink alert female voters,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a civil rights campaigner and analyst, adding Mugabe’s somersault was “duplicitous.”
Given that women vote in large numbers and are mobilisers, statistics from previous elections show they participate especially on the voting day more than any other demographic group, said political analyst Phillip Pasirayi.
He added: “This is the vote that Zanu PF wants to capture,” he said.
“It explains why Zanu PF is working round the clock to assassinate PM Tsvangirai’s moral standing and portray him in negative light as a womaniser and someone who does not respect women.”
Pasirayi said Zanu PF also knows the age and health status of Mugabe will be a serious electoral issue in the coming polls and they want to dilute all that by attacking Tsvangirai’s character.
“But what Zanu PF doesn’t know is that women are not that gullible because they know whose party militia raped their daughters and mothers for supporting a “wrong” party,” he said.