THE move by the two factions of the MDC to field separate candidates in three parliamentary by-elections to be held concurrently with the June 27 presidential election run-off between President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai has dampened hopes that the camps would forge a strong front against Zanu PF.
With about three weeks before the run-off, the two factions failed to demonstrate to the electorate their unity of purpose to dump Mugabe to the dustbin of political history by nominating different candidates for Gwanda South, Redcliff and Mpopoma-Pelandaba constituencies.
This is despite the fact the two factions signed a parliamentary pact soon after the March 29 elections that clearly spelt out that they would form a coalition in the House and would work as a united front to enhance the oversight role of parliament.
They also agreed that they would have a single parliamentary caucus and chief whip to goad the two campsâ€™ legislators into pursuing the interests of the parties and that of the electorate at large.
The pact came about after the two factions together won 109 seats in the House of Assembly against Zanu PFâ€™s 97 â€” ending the ruling partyâ€™s 28 years control of parliament. The deal was also spurred by the realisation that the factionsâ€™ failure to unite before the March 29 elections had cost Tsvangirai an outright presidential victory against Mugabe.
The Arthur Mutambara-led faction backed independent presidential hopeful Simba Makoni who won 8,3% of the presidential votes cast. If Makoniâ€™s votes had gone to Tsvangirai, the opposition leader would have garnered 56,2% votes â€” more than the legal requirement to assume the presidency.
Last Friday, at the close of nomination courts, the two formations of the MDC once again chose to advertise to the electorate their differences and not their unity of purpose to confront the Zanu PF colossus
While the electorate hoped that the two factions would field a single candidate in each of the three constituencies, Mpopoma-Pelandaba, Gwanda South and Redcliff, the camps decided to go their separate ways and nominated different candidates. The fielding of different candidates has very little to do with the quest for democratisation. It is generally instructed by irreconcilable disagreements between certain leaders in the two formations, which has nothing to do with the expectations of the electorate.
The nomination of different candidates put into question the level of cooperation between the two factions and gave weight to assertions that Mutambara and Tsvangirai signed the parliamentary pact in South Africa without having consulted their party structures.
The pact seems to have no blessings from party organs and had little effect on the level of cooperation between the factions on elections. This was confirmed by Mutambara campâ€™s secretary-general Welshman Ncube.
Ncube at the weekend ruled out the possibility of the factions fielding single candidates in the near future arguing that the factions were separate and would remain separate entities. He said there was “never an agreement on parliamentary candidates”.
The failure by the factions to field single candidates may prove costly to them in the by-elections. It is crystal clear that this decision would result in vote splitting between the two MDC factions â€“ a move that may benefit Zanu PF, which desperately needs to win the three seats at stake.
On the other hand, the combined MDC may lose the opportunity to increase its numbers in the House of Assembly. Politics is a game of numbers and the factions should have taken that into serious consideration before the nomination courts sat last Friday. It remains unclear how the factions would coordinate and run Tsvangiraiâ€™s run-off campaign having failed to come to an understanding on a simple issue of parliamentary candidates.
A presidential election, especially against a crafty politician like Mugabe, needs a united opposition that pulls in one direction, but it seems the two MDC factions are still buried in mediaeval politics of bickering. This does not inspire any confidence that the two formations can co-operate meaningfully in parliament. The three by-elections presented a good opportunity for the two formations to test-run their co-operation and cohesion. This opportunity has been sacrificed on the altar of selfish political brinksmanship.
To add to the embarrassing state of our opposition, Simba Makoni of the Mavambo project is still undecided about whether to support Tsvangirai or not in the run-off. What is he waiting for? This is the nature of our opposition; fragmentation and procrastination while the backyard is burning.