MDC racing against time

Leader of Zimbabwes biggest opposition party, Nelson Chamisa is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Harare, Thursday, March, 8, 2018. Chamisa is a charismatic lawyer and trained pastor who seeks to capitaliize on goodwill towards his deceased predecessor and highlight the past of his militarty backed opponent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
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HARARE – Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC, is racing against time in its bid to tie up loose ends ahead of next month’s watershed harmonised polls in which it will be facing Zanu PF for the sixth time since its formation in 1999.

It is, however, the first election to be held without the country’s first post-independence executive president, Robert Mugabe, in the running, after he was forced to resign in November last year.

The poll, scheduled for July 30, would be a straight fight between 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu PF party and the MDC, led by Nelson Chamisa, aged 40.

With only two weeks left before the court sits, the Daily News can report that the MDC’s primary elections that began two weeks ago are yet to be completed, with the process of considering appeals from disgruntled candidates still on-going.

The polls have just been as chaotic as those of the opposition party’s main rival, Zanu PF, which left the ruling party on the edge. But despite the similarities that could be drawn from the two parties’ shambolic primaries, Zanu PF has since moved on, and now has a full complement of candidates to battle it out at the July 30 elections.

Also, unlike Zanu PF, which launched its manifesto on May 4, Chamisa’s MDC has gone full steam ahead with its campaign without this requisite document, which speaks to its principles, policies and political intentions.

Over and above that, the MDC is still to finalise discussions over the formation of the much-anticipated grand coalition of opposition parties being held under the aegis of the MDC Alliance, comprising seven political parties namely Chamisa’s main MDC, Welshman Ncube’s MDC, the People’s Democratic Party led by Tendai Biti, Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) led by Jacob Ngarivhume, the Zimbabwe People First, led by Agrippa Mutambara, Zanu–Ndonga and the Multi-Racial Democrats.

Chamisa has been engaged in talks to broaden the Alliance by incorporating the National People’s Party, led by Joice Mujuru and the newly-formed National Patriotic Front, currently headed in the interim by retired brigadier general, Ambrose Mutinhiri.

These discussions come with their own dangers for the MDC Alliance as they might mean the reconfiguration of existing terms and conditions underpinning the September 5, 2017 Political Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed by the seven parties.

Before his death on February 14 this year, founding MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had declared that a grand coalition would have been finalised by July 2017 to enable the parties to the alliance to have ample time to strategise Zanu PF’s downfall.

Tsvangirai had also signed a memorandum of understanding with Mujuru, which collapsed due to irreconcilable differences between them.

More than 10 months after inking the PCA, and engaging Mujuru, the MDC has not made much headway to bring the talks to a close.

Analyst canvassed by the Daily News said despite being buoyed by bumper crowds, the MDC does not look prepared for elections as compared to their rivals, Zanu PF.

Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group said while the expansion of the MDC Alliance and related modalities was constrained by the parameters and timelines of the nomination process, it was important that the final team representing this coalition sing from the same hymn sheet.

“As such, the finalising of the manifesto is obviously important. What attention the traditionally partisan State media gives to this will be critical. How voters recognise who is team MDC Alliance will be crucial factor given how many may be contesting next month,” said Pigou.

It is generally argued that the best prospect the opposition parties have of winning the forthcoming polls would be if they go into a grand coalition to avoid the splitting of votes.

In the 2008 polls, Tsvangirai was denied outright victory after Simba Makoni of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) entered the presidential race a few months before voting and managed to get eight percent of the vote.

Tsvangirai’s followers claim the MDC leader could have sealed it in the first round without the need for a run-off which saw the former trade unionist pulling out citing widespread violence if the MKD had not split their vote.

Zimbabwe currently has over 120 opposition political parties, some of which are believed to be the creation of Zanu PF to create confusion and divide the votes.

Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said the MDC has been behind not just on concluding its own primaries, but launching its manifestos and publicising its key selling points to the electorate.

Saungweme said even the demonstration pencilled for tomorrow to demand reforms that can level the electoral playing field should have happened long back.

“They are indeed racing against time. They have been behind and are still behind. They have been behind not just on concluding their own primaries, launching their manifestos and publicity blitz but also on demanding reforms. The demonstration pencilled for tomorrow should have happened long back,” said Saungweme.

“The MDC Alliance itself knows they are racing against time, but they have a young candidature wowing masses in an election people want real change from military Junta merely extending former president Robert Mugabe’s 38 years of rule albeit without the man himself.

“All pointers now are in the direction of a government of national unity (GNU). The no reform no election campaign is meant to exert pressure on the junta to accept a GNU with Chamisa as he has the numbers. So whatever the case is we are likely going to have a GNU of sorts either if we or go for the elections or Mnangagwa rigs his way out and wins.”

The coming elections will feature European Union monitors for the first time since Mugabe expelled Western observers in 2002 after they alleged his Zanu PF was guilty of human rights abuses.

Zanu PF denied the charges and accused the Western nations of interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.