THE MDC may prove to be the biggest obstacle to its own bid to oust President Robert Mugabe after unity talks between the two opposition formations
collapsed at the weekend.
Many theories have been postulated as to the real causes of the political stalemate between the two factions. Policy inconsistency, infiltration by security agents and a leadership crisis are but a few examples of such theories that seek to explain the MDC’s failure to get its act together.
Suffice it to say divisions in the main opposition party have left the once vibrant movement staring at defeat in the presidential, legislative and council elections on March 29.
Political analysts said the failure of the talks meant that the opposition factions would contest the polls fragmented — a move that will result in the splitting of votes in favour of Mugabe and the ruling party.
To make matters worse, the analysts argued, neither one of the MDC camps had approached the talks seriously since it was apparent that each faction had already come up with its position way before the weekend meetings.
The talks crumbled after the MDC factions failed to agree on how to select candidates for the House of Assembly and Senate elections.
Analysts had predicted a tight victory for Mugabe if the two MDC factions had fought the elections as a single party, but going into the polls divided they would hand the 84-year old nationalist a resounding victory.
Political scientist and a critic of Mugabe’s leadership style, John Makumbe, said the failure by the MDC to patch up their differences would see Zanu PF wallopping the opposition.
Makumbe said it was regrettable that the MDC formations failed to agree on how to come up with candidates when they had initially devised what appeared to be a sound formula.
“It is clear to me that Mugabe will win hands down. He will have the last laugh,” Makumbe said. “What is needed to confront the current dictatorship is a united front and the MDC should know the cost of vote-splitting.”
In Kenya in 1998, then President Daniel arap Moi won his fifth and final term with 40% of the votes against a divided opposition in a muddled, controversial and chaotic election.
Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer, said the MDC have shot themselves in the foot by failing to come up with an election pact.
“The opposition has just done themselves in and in fact it would not be wrong if one were to suggest that they are becoming another obstruction to democratic change,” said Makumbe.
Both factions of the MDC had come up with a formula for selecting candidates. Under the proposed pact, the camps would select a single presidential candidate.
The Tsvangirai group was to field candidates in 70% of the seats in Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Masvingo provinces. It would also field 50% of the candidates in Midlands.
The faction was expected to contest 30% of the seats in Bulawayo and the two Matabeleland provinces.
Mutambara’s faction, on the other hand, was supposed to field 70% of the seats in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.
The national council of the Tsvangirai faction rejected the original agreement.
In a dramatic U-turn, the Tsvangirai camp wanted to have all seats in Harare and Chitungwiza. It also wanted a vast majority of seats in Bulawayo and the Matabeleland provinces reserved for them.
Political scientist Michael Mhike was of the opinion that the failure of the talks was partly because of parliamentary hopefuls in the Tsvangirai national council who saw themselves losing opportunities to occupy political office.
Mhike argued that the hopefuls took a stance to reject the proposed formula way before the two factions met at the weekend.
“In the end, the meetings at the weekend by the two formations was more of an argument of the deaf,” Mhike said. “No one came to the meeting prepared to give in to the demands of the other.”
He said the MDC had worsened its political predicament by failing to patch up differences following the October 2005 split.
“Many voters are convinced that Mugabe will easily romp home to victory in the elections and I think it is a fair prediction,” Mhike said. “The MDC has betrayed the electorate which wanted the two parties to unite or come up with a loose coalition for the March 29 elections.”
Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said the collapse of the MDC talks was tantamount to electoral suicide by the opposition.
“The decision to go separate ways was a self-destruct button,” said Masunungure. “They will be mince-meat for the ruling party.”
Observers have questioned whether Tsvangirai or Mutambara, individually or collectively, could defeat Mugabe. While it is generally agreed that Mugabe is much weaker now than ever before given internal rivalries and an economy in free-fall, it is also true to say that opposition leaders are weaker compared to him in a number of respects.
Mugabe is under siege on many fronts. The collapsing economy is blamed on mismanagement by his regime while internal wrangling in Zanu PF has created serious fault lines in the party. Mugabe is also isolated inside his party and internationally.
However, he has the state machinery on his side. He also has a lot of resources at his disposal to prop up his rule, the sort of things Tsvangirai or Mutambara can only dream of.
Other analysts argued that the failure by the MDC to unite would work against Tsvangirai’s faction in the Matabeleland provinces where Mutambara’s camp enjoys more support.
Tsvangirai, the analysts said, cannot win the March polls without support of the Matabeleland region, while Mutambara camp could retain seats in that region alone.
Tsvangirai enjoys support in the Mashonaland provinces.
Mutambara’s camp, which is the smaller faction of the MDC, quickly conceded that unseating Mugabe — a tough assignment at the best of times — look slimmer after failure to construct a united front.
Mutambara’s faction spokesperson Gabriel Chaibva blamed Tsvangirai for the collapse of the united front talks saying the camp had made unreasonable demands.
“Tsvangirai said his national council had rejected the original agreement,” Chaibva said.
“He (Tsvangirai) has no control over his formation and that is why one day he will agree to reunification under the framework of a document crafted by teams of 10 people from each side only to renege on it the next day.”
Tsvangirai also admitted at a press conference at the weekend that the failure of the talks was regrettable
“Indeed, I must confirm that we had agreed on a set of principles, rules and guidelines. However, the national council disagreed on the selection of candidates,” Tsvangirai said.
“On our part, we are still committed to the reunification of the MDC formations. There is a dispute and disagreement. It’s regrettable, it’s unfortunate and that is reality. We have to stand by it.”