By Innocent Chofamba Sithole
FOLLOWING Simba Makoni’s decision to run for president on March 29, the time may be ripe for opposition faction leaders Morgan Tsvangi
rai and Arthur Mutambara to pack in and run for parliament instead.
Mutambara acknowledges his limits in the presidential race at the present moment and regards himself really as a future president. This is why, in my opinion, he has been ready at various times in the unity discussions between the two MDC factions to play second fiddle to Tsvangirai.
He recognises the work put in by Tsvangirai, both in the formation of a viable opposition party and in consolidating and sustaining opposition politics in the country, thereby giving Zimbabwe — as did PF Zapu before — the institutional building blocks for a more democratic politics, or the two-party politics as it is known.
However, there is widespread recognition that through his foibles and strategic indiscretions over the years, Tsvangirai has lost the aura and novelty with which he entered the political arena in 2000.
The long-drawn-out economic crisis and its attendant hardships have fostered popular disillusionment with politics and the political leadership both within and outside the state. In other words, when people fail to see either side as their liberator, they get frustrated with the political class altogether.
It is fair to say Tsvangirai still retains the respect and influence that he has garnered over the last 10 years and that it will be a boon to Makoni if he could back him by getting out of the way.
But I will put my money on Mutambara not only getting out of Makoni’s way but actually assisting him on the understanding that a government of national unity could be in the offing. Remember that there is an imminent reconstruction of the state post-election through the adoption of a new constitution at whose core is the introduction of a prime minister with significant executive powers.
It has been suggested that Makoni will only be a spoiler. If anyone should fit that role, it’s Mutambara, since he clearly has no chance of winning against either Tsvangirai or Mugabe.
It is without doubt that Makoni is held in higher esteem than either Tsvangirai or Mutambara. Whatever the objective merits, at closer scrutiny, he is regarded as more experienced in statecraft. He does have the so-called gravitas that Mutambara claims to have over Tsvangirai.
And the key dynamic in all this is that his candidacy brings with it the aura and excitement that Tsvangirai once invoked in the 2000 and 2002 elections. There is the excitement of something new and yet so long-expected in Makoni.
One key factor to consider is that unlike Zanu PF, the MDC’s electoral success has depended consistently on a large pool of floating voters. The MDC has for a long time been sustained by an anti-Zanu PF sentiment, which is not the same thing as a pro-MDC sentiment.
Zanu PF, on the contrary, has a more solid support base; they have a bigger constituency of core supporters. You only have to check the consistency of its voters in urban centres; they almost always score the same numbers. In sharp contrast, there’s a consistent decline for the MDC with each new election. In other words, the people on the outer concentric circle of the MDC are like loose electrons — they can move on to more attractive options.
My view is that Tsvangirai, particularly, should make way for Makoni. The two can work together in a government of national unity.
I also think Makoni’s arrival can potentially preserve Tsvangirai’s political career. There’s now no need for Tsvangirai to sacrifice himself in an election he is bound to lose anyway, not least because it will definitely not be free and fair. Defeat will most certainly consign him to history and render his presidential ambitions illegitimate if he should stand in the way of new leadership within the MDC thereafter.
Everyone deserves a second shot at the top post and Tsvangirai can save his for later. In the interim, he can get into parliament and exercise leadership in a role that Zimbabweans have never seen him in before.
He can hone his leadership skills there and perhaps, having served in a government of national unity, will have garnered renewed political clout to make a go at it one more time — hopefully in more favourable conditions.
Tsvangirai can play kingmaker here. So there are opportunities for everyone in this. I just hope they all don’t go for broke.
* Innocent Chofamba Sithole is a Zimbabwean journalist based in the UK. This article first appeared on newzimbabwe.com