THE Matabeleland region will decide the countryâ€™s next leader in tomorrowâ€™s polls where Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC and independent candidate Simba Makoni are challenging incumbent President Robert Mugabe, analysts have said.
Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF were earlier this year poised to cruise to an easy victory against a divided MDC, but the entry of Makoni into the presidential race on February 5 changed the expected outcome of the polls.
Analysts argued that Makoni has since gained significant support in urban areas where the elite is strongly rooting for him, while Tsvangirai had made inroads in rural areas were traditionally Mugabe and Zanu PF-dominated.Â Â
Makoni, the analysts said, received a major boost earlier this month when former Zapu intelligence supremo and politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa broke ranks with Mugabe to join his camp.
But as the struggle to win votes by the three top presidential candidates rages on, Matabeleland has emerged as a deciding factor for the crucial election, as whoever wins in the three provinces in the region is likely to occupy Zimbabwe House.
The analysts, however, said anyone between Mugabe, Makoni and Tsvangirai who wins Matabeleland, should also garner substantial support from other regions of the country.
The electorate in Matabeleland has always voted en masse for one party since Independence in 1980. The region voted for PF-Zapu in 1980 and 1985 and changed allegiance to the MDC in 2000.Â
Gwanda-based analyst, Themba Nxumalo, said Matabeleland by virtue of always voting en bloc would decide the next president.
â€œThe candidates will split the votes countrywide and the winner will be decided by the Matabeleland vote and this time around the region will become the kingmaker,â€ Nxumalo said.
He said indicators were pointing to a Makoni victory. Presidential contestant in 2002, Paul Siwela, said the Matabeleland vote was likely to be won by Makoni, but was quick to add that the former Sadc executive secretary did not enjoy much support from other provinces, including Manicaland where he hails from.
â€œIt is not true that Matabeleland will decide the outcome of the whole election, but as things stand Makoni will lead in Matabeleland. However, that vote will not count for much,â€ Siwela said.
He said if any of the three candidates won a third of the total votes cast in other provinces, Matabeleland would then decide the outcome.
Ernest Mudzengi, the national director of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said it was a fallacy that Makoni would win outrightly in Matabeleland and suggested that the region would be bitterly contested by the former Finance minister and Tsvangirai.
â€œIt will not be true to say one candidate will easily win in Matabeleland, but the elections will be heavily contested and there is no one candidate who will get an absolute majority,â€ Mudzengi postulated. â€œWhoever wins will win by a small margin and that will be insignificant to the whole national picture.â€
Mudzengi tipped Tsvangirai to win the presidential polls if they were free and fair.
Bulawayo-based political activist Gorden Moyo said Matabeleland was not a deciding factor and will only play an endorsing role for the new president.
Moyo is the director of Bulawayo Agenda, a think-tank.
â€œMatabeleland does not decide an election but only blesses a leader,â€ Moyo said. â€œIf Matabeleland had the power of deciding an election, Tsvangirai would be the president of Zimbabwe as he won almost everything in Matabeleland (in 2000). The region only blesses an election.â€
He added that the Matabeleland region had few voters compared to other parts of the country. He said votes from the region would be divided between Tsvangirai and Makoni.
Moyo, however, said Tsvangirai would win more votes nationally than Makoni.
â€œThe mood in Matabeleland has changed. Makoni will win crucial votes in Matabeleland, but still he will come out a distant third in the whole national picture as Mugabe will win the majority of the votes followed by Tsvangirai,â€ Moyo predicted.
â€œWhat has happened is that Tsvangiraiâ€™s image in Matabeleland has been damaged by the (Arthur) Mutambara faction in the region over the failed unity talks.â€
The three Matabeleland provinces have 1,1 million voters out of 5,9 million..
Bulawayo has 313 459 voters, Matabeleland North 345 264 while Matabeleland South has 342 280 voters.Â The three presidential contestants have in the last two weeks been campaigning heavily in the region.
First to come to the region was Makoni who addressed a crowd of about 4 000 enthusiastic supporters to whom he promised a new beginning and focused on the marginalisation of the region.
Tsvangirai was the second presidential candidate to visit the region and promised the people that he would set up a Gukurahundi Fund to mitigate the effects of the 1980s government-engineered atrocities against civilians. This week, Mugabe was in Bulawayo and addressed a rally at Stanley Square where he invoked the late Vice-president Joshua Nkomoâ€™s name and said the people of the region should vote for Zanu PF to protect the 1987 Unity Accord.
He claimed that his government has purchased 400 new cars to be distributed to doctors throughout the country to alleviate their transport problems.
Â At the rally, Mugabe also revealed that the government had substantially increased salaries for nurses and doctors after negotiations.
Mugabe took a swipe at Tsvangirai and vowed that he would never rule the country.
Â â€œTsvangirai will never, never, ever rule this country and those that are voting for Tsvangirai are wasting their vote, itâ€™s a waste of time voting for Tsvangirai and come March 29 we (Zanu PF) will emerge victorious,â€ Mugabe said, waving his fist in the air, amid ululation from the crowd.
Â Mugabe also took a swipe at the MDC and said the British were using the party.
â€œThe MDC has recalled whites who were in South Africa to come and contest the Umguza constituency. Donâ€™t they have any black person who can contest apart from Joubert and Goosen?â€ said Mugabe drawing laughter.
Â The two MDC factions are fielding white candidates in Bubi constituency. David Joubert represents the Tsvangirai faction in the constituency while Alex Goosen represents the Mutambara faction. Mugabe said Zanu PF was in trouble in Marondera constituency where another white was causing havoc.
Â â€œWe are getting reports from our people in Marondera who are in trouble with another MDC white man, Ian Kay, who speaks fluent Shona and our people are saying he is using money to buy votes,â€ the president alleged.
By Loughty Dube