Tsvangirai to remain at the helm of MDC

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai will remain at the helm of his party after its national council reached a consensus last week not to challenge him at the party’s congress to be held by May 30 next year, sources in the party said.

The sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that although the issue was debated, there was general agreement that no one should contest the president’s post at the congress.
“There was a general agreement at the meeting that no one should challenge MT (Morgan Tsvangirai) — that no one should contest that position. The issue was not debated as such but the feeling was that he should remain the party leader,” said one of the sources.
A national executive official, who refused to be named for fear of being accused of leaking the story, said the issue of leadership renewal would be discussed at the congress and Tsvangirai was still legible for re-election, as there were no term limits in the current party constitution.
“Why should we discuss the matter at the national council meeting, we will discuss it at the congress next year,” he said.
In its resolutions last week, the party said “council waives strict compliance with the time limits provided in the constitution,” without elaborating.  
The MDC-T dropped from its constitution a clause limiting the party president’s terms in office, thus extending Tsvangirai’s tenure to beyond 2011. Tsvangirai has been at the helm of the party since its formation in 1999. It removed clause 6.1.3, which said the president shall serve for a maximum of two five-year terms.
This amendment was not brought before the party’s last congress in 2006. According to the MDC constitution, any amendment to the constitution requires at least two-thirds of delegates present at the congress to vote for it.
Also removed from the constitution was the term limit for the vice-president.
Our sister paper, NewsDay quoted MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa when he was asked about the possibility of the MDC-T changing leaders, saying it was up to the congress to decide.
He said none of the party’s leaders had served for two terms since the party had been restructured following the 2005 split, adding that there was no limit to the number of years one could lead the party outside government. Chamisa said the two terms count when one is the president of the country.
“We are apostles of constitutionalism and disciples and doyens of democracy. The congress will decide on the leadership but I am not a seer or a prophet, so I cannot pre-empt what will happen,” he said. “But there is nothing like the two-term limits. The two-term limit is in relation to the governance of the country. And besides, nobody in the leadership has served two terms because the first conference was in 2006. The constitution in operation had its life and gestation period in 2006.”  Chamisa yesterday declined to comment on the issue.
In the council meeting, MDC-T also said only presidential elections should be held next year, followed by a harmonised poll in 2013.
Sources who attended the meeting said it was mostly current sitting MPs who spoke strongly against harmonised polls while another group of national council members who would have wanted to contest elections if they are held in 2011 wanted harmonised elections. Sources said the majority were in favour of harmonised polls until Tsvangirai suggested that they agree on presidential elections alone.
“The debate was tense. Sitting MPs were moving strongly the position that we should have only presidential elections. Their argument was that the next elections should be treated like a presidential run-off to conclude the previous March 2008 polls,” the source said. “It is the run-off that needs to be completed to deal with the disputed 2008 elections, which resulted in the formation of this unity government. The next harmonised elections will be held in 2013. What caused us to have an inclusive government is because the presidential elections were inconclusive, so we are not in violation of Amendment No. 18, which states that elections in Zimbabwe will be harmonised.”
Neither of the presidential candidates received the constitutional 50% plus one vote in the March 2008 election, which led to the bloody June presidential run-off. Tsvangirai pulled out of the June run-off elections, citing violence and intimidation. MDC-T says more than 200 of its members were killed during the run-up to the June elections and thousands others were maimed and injured.
The resolution to have just presidential elections was welcomed by sitting MPs, who just two weeks ago at a caucus meeting were pushing for a resolution that no primary elections should be held in their constitutions. They wanted primaries only in constituencies that fell vacant since 2008.
“Just two weeks ago at a caucus meeting, MPs said if harmonised elections are held next year, there should not be primary elections in their constituencies,” said the national council member.
Other sources on the national council said the decision to hold only presidential elections was seen as a way to try and divide Zanu PF, which has been hit by sharp divisions on elections.
Zanu PF MPs have publicly said they did not want elections next year and had demanded compensation for the two years cut short. There is also another group in Zanu PF’s leadership that does not want elections and would want to see it delayed beyond 2011.
“The whole argument on presidential elections is also seen as a divisive move to divide Zanu PF and it is also seen as a delay tactic to make sure there are no elections next year. There will have to be another round of negotiations around this,” said the national council member.
They also said in the event that elections are held next year, the legislators also did not want primary elections in their constituencies. However, their proposals were turned down, with Mugabe saying after last week’s conference that if they did not want elections, they should “just stay at home”.
Mugabe also spurned calls by MDC-T to have just presidential elections, saying harmonised elections would be held as stated in Amendment 18.

Faith Zaba

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