THE low-level conflict that emerged from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s national executive council meeting last Wednesday over whether or not to participate in the forthcoming election for a revived senate has cast a long shadow ove
r the party’s ability to forge a united front to fight Zanu PF.
The squabbles threaten to tear apart the six-year-old opposition party that has mounted the sternest challenge yet to President Robert Mugabe’s 25-year grip on power.
An announcement by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai against participation after the meeting and a countermand by information secretary Paul Themba Nyathi have confirmed public perceptions of widening divisions in the opposition movement due to blurred policies.
Tsvangirai, who has in the past been blamed for electoral losses and lack of leadership qualities, is unwilling to repeat past mistakes that placed the party at a disadvantage by contesting elections on a lopsided playing field.
“Our reasons for calling for a boycott of senatorial elections are well-grounded,” he said in a statement. “The electoral management system in Zimbabwe is still a recipe for political disasters. The system breeds illegitimate outcomes and provides for a predetermined result.”
Opposition supporters are as divided as the leaders themselves on how to deal with the impasse. But Tsvangirai seems to have invested heavily in the belief that the electorate wants no further collaboration with a system that is institutionally flawed.
“Given our experience in the past six years, the party’s new thrust is to turn the corner, to chart a new direction against the dictatorship,” he said. “We are engaged in a full-scale organisational programme to build people power and confidence to take on Zanu PF.”
An insider said Tsvangirai had every right to differ with his lieutenants because the party’s constitution mandated him to make subjective decisions if he felt this was in the interests of the party.
“The buck stops with Tsvangirai. He is expected to take drastic measures to hold the party together,” one insider said. “He cannot be seen to be repeating the same thing all over again and getting the same result. He is prepared to be lynched at congress if need be.”
Tsvangirai could have taken a huge gamble and put his head on the block by differing with his colleagues and allowing the standoff to widen the chasm in the MDC and erode confidence which was slowly rebuilding after a messy youth revolt following the March election. He is convinced none of his lieutenants has the wherewithal to call for an extraordinary congress or break ranks to form a new political party in the short period before the senatorial election.
But party legal secretary David Coltart said he hoped the issue would be resolved amicably.
“People should not liken difference of opinion to factional divisions,” Coltart said.
He said the majority of the party’s grassroots support was for participation.
“They say they have no other means of expressing their anger against the government other than going for it just to spite Zanu PF. They also say if we don’t participate we yield ground in areas where Zanu PF has no chance of winning votes,” Coltart said.
This reasoning might be useful in stopping Mugabe from bringing in “deadwood” members of the politburo who do not sit in parliament and would benefit from an MDC boycott.
They could then assist Mugabe in his succession plans. Mugabe is unsure if the Emmerson Mnangagwa camp will support his retirement plan and so he needs an acquiescent old guard buttressing him in parliament.
The MDC’s taking part in the election could stop serial losers such as Sithembiso Nyoni from strolling into the senate unchallenged in as much as it could kill the hopes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Dzikamai Mavhaire, Edgar Tekere or Irene Zindi of going into the upper chamber.
Other victims could be the candidates for Harare and Chitungwiza who are likely to stand in urban constituencies where the MDC has a lot of voter clout and risk losing if the MDC participates.
But Coltart said even then, supporters felt the election was an expensive farce particularly in the light of the MDC having voted against the establishment of the senate.
“Whatever decision we take would be a disaster,” Coltart said, discounting speculation that the senate issue would exacerbate discontent in the party.
Analysts say the financial demands of an election campaign, including supervision and monitoring against fraud, could have persuaded the MDC leader against participation.
While there are 50 senatorial seats at stake, the poll needs as much energy and resources as a general election as the number of polling stations remains the same. The Political Parties (Finance) Act does not cater for senatorial elections.
While the ruling party can tap into government resources such as vehicles and fuel for campaign purposes, the opposition has to finance its campaign from own resources which have been heavily depleted by protracted court battles arising from past electoral challenges. Zanu PF can also rely on the state media to place a gloss on its threadbare propaganda.
Unlike in March, there won’t be international observers to monitor the poll.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove said his organisation would not provide support services due to financial constraints.
“We are unprepared for the senate which will not have any powers. We have not budgeted for it because it has come so soon after the March election and we don’t see how parties can participate effectively with the current fuel shortage,” Matchaba-Hove said.