‘Opposition alliance raises regime change prospects’

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties announced an alliance last week to fight next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections against President Robert Mugabe and his long-ruling Zanu PF, in a move hailed by analysts as a “very promising development”.

By Gift Phiri

Mugabe, 93, is seeking an eighth and final term after controversially winning the 2013 race against veteran politician Morgan Tsvangirai, 64, whose Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is one of the four main opposition parties uniting.

The teetotaller has been in power since the country gained independemce in 1980 and in December his party confirmed him as its candidate for the next presidential election expected in mid-2018, when he will be 94.

On Wednesday, Tsvangirai and former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who heads up the National People’s Party (NPP), signed an agreement to work together, followed by Welshman Ncube of the smaller MDC.

PDP leader Tendai Biti was also said to be inking a deal with Tsvangirai this week after upon return from London.

The test will be whether the new coalition can agree on a single candidate before the vote without splintering.

Critics accuse Mugabe of wrecking one of Africa’s most promising economies through policies such as violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms and money printing.

He and his party say the economy has been undermined by western powers. He has also faced criticism for not doing more to tackle corruption.

Tsvangirai, who has controversially lost three elections to Mugabe amid accusations of ballot fraud, wants to run again, with most leaders openly endorsing the former trade union leader as the torch bearer.

The MDC leader disputed the results of the last vote in 2013 and the election in 2008, which was followed by weeks of deadly political violence in which about 200 people died and over 200 000 were internally displaced, according to rights groups.

The build-up to next year’s vote has already been marred by clashes between protesters and police, sparked by a row over opposition demands that presidential elections next year be conducted by a committee set up by the United Nations, African Union and Sadc because they had lost confidence in the neutrality of the local election agency, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

Mugabe has defended Zec saying it was doing its work properly and that the opposition “are fighting a commission that has no fault.”

He told his Zanu PF’s central committee meeting last month: “(Zec) itself a constitutional body mandated to run elections in our country, (the opposition) afflicted by madness as it were, which knows no bounds, they even seek to interfere with the mandate of government tendering process, hoping for some optimistic fissures and little chances that might give them a little respectability.”

At Thursday’s launch for the new alliance, Ncube said the splitting of the MDC “divided our people and the vibrancy of the party, which we should not have done.”

“I do take responsibility for those mistakes, but what is more important, as it stands, is for us to not just accept those mistakes, but begin to take steps that are necessary for us to be accountable to the people of Zimbabwe.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Mujuru said it had taken more than six months to come up with the agreement.

“We are looking forward to seeing Zimbabwe being that great Zimbabwe that we fought for,” she stated.

Tsvangirai said that it was “just the beginning of the building blocks towards establishing a broad alliance to confront Zanu PF between now and the next election in 2018.”

Cape Town-based NKC African Economics said: “There are strong personalities at play here:.. Mujuru’s struggle credentials must play off against the experience of Tsvangirai, who has fought a long, bitter and often dangerous campaign against the tyranny of Zanu PF and its aging leader.”

NKC analyst Gary van Staden described it as “a very promising development”, but politics in Zimbabwe has proved to be anything but predictable.

“While this movement could mature into a viable challenge to Zanu PF and Mugabe, it could just as easily disintegrate as the parties and their leaders are drawn into issues around who the presidential candidate should be,” Van Staden said.

“Both leaders have strong claims and while other smaller parties could be encouraged to join, it would be as minor partners and that, too, could prove to be a stumbling block. Mujuru sat at Mugabe’s side as he cheated, intimidated and brutalised the MDC — an issue many in that party will not easily forgive — while Tsvangirai’s leadership skills have been found wanting on several occasions and in several respects. So resolving the issue is crucial to the success of this opposition mission.”

Phillan Zamchiya, an Oxford scholar, said drawing from the utility value of elections, Tsvangirai needs to maximise the electoral economies of scale to grow his vote far beyond the million mark. Tsvangirai’s vote has been constant in the past three presidential elections, garnering around a million votes in all the three elections.

In 2002, 2008 and 2013, Tsvangirai had 1 258 401, 1 195 562 and 1 172 349 votes respectively.

“This signifies the need to think outside the box in order to grow the vote,” Zamchiya said.

Zimbabwe has a high electoral threshold, for one to be national president the law is clear that one needs to get 50 percent plus one vote.

“A coalition would have a mechanical and modifying effect on electoral laws by making votes count,” he said.

“The MDC-T has not been impressive in Mashonaland provinces. For example, Mugabe in 2013 had 925 486 votes in these three provinces whereas Tsvangirai had 1 172 349 in all the 10 provinces. An evidently unhealthy distribution whether rigged or not.

“It is therefore important to seek partnership with formidable and reliable forces in these spaces. On the other hand, the vote in Matabeleland provinces has not been consistent. In 2008, it was MDC that performed well and in 2013 it was the ruling Zanu PF,” Zamchiya said.

He said the coalition will contain the consequences of an “extreme Zanu PF government” that might gain exclusive power and implement policies that seek to annihilate the opposition in the post-election period.

He hailed the pre-election alliance for its potential ability to reduce uncertainty among critical voters on the government coalition that will form after the next election and on which policies would be implemented; adding Tsvangirai’s MDC had “some political deficiencies which require other actors to augment.”

“For example, it lacks liberation war credentials and is viewed as a party without a history by its opponents and is easily battered on that,” Zamchiya said.

This comes after Zimbabwe’s defence forces commander, Constantino Chiwenga, pledged the army’s’ undying loyalty to Mugabe even if he loses the forthcoming presidential elections, dismissing other presidential aspirants as ‘‘sell-outs’’ out to reverse the gains of independence.

Chiwenga, in chilling comments ahead of next year’s harmonised elections, said the army would not recognise a government led by Mugabe’s challengers — pointedly Tsvangirai should they win the presidential elections because he will not salute a “president with no liberation war credentials.”

Zamchiya said other notable Tsvangirai MDC deficiencies were technocratic prowess, limited financial resources and inexperience in negotiating with State security apparatus for easy of transfer of power in the event of winning the 2018 general election.

Analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said the alliance suits well on the role of a democratic opposition in competitive authoritarian regimes.  “For instance Stepan (1990) argued that the dynamics of authoritarian regimes and the prospects for regime change also depend on the relationship between the regime and democratic opposition. He outlined five critical tasks for the opposition in roughly ascending order of complexity: resisting integration into the regime; guarding zones of autonomy against it; disputing its legitimacy; raising the costs of authoritarian rule; and creating a credible democratic alternative,” the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) think-tank said.

Van Staden said if the agreement does in fact hold, it would signal a major shift in the country’s politics and would suggest that Zanu PF and Mugabe will once again face electoral defeat as they did in 2008.

The stunning reversal of the 2008 result was due to a combination of the gerrymandering skills of the ruling party, the inexperience and naivety of the MDC and Tsvangirai, and the shameful endorsement of the fraud by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

“A united opposition would change all that, but there will be problems. Mujuru and Tsvangirai have their own strong claims to be the presidential candidate against a weakened, often dysfunctional Zanu PF and a president whose faculties have of late appeared seriously impaired, but they cannot both be number one. The potential for that argument to end this promising, united effort cannot be ignored,” he said. – Daily News

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