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Now the big question is whether Tsvangirai can win the next election and take over from Mugabe. There are more questions: Is Professor Welshman Ncube a serious contender to the presidential throne? Is Ncube a refreshing alternative to both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, or will he just split the vote which could have resulted in the defeat of Mugabe and Zanu PF?

Does Tsvangirai have the capacity and gravitas to build on the March 2008 preliminary victory or has he lost ground to the geriatric political craftsman in the form of Mugabe?

Are there any substantive issues at stake in the next elections or the main agenda is simply regime change, or retention of the old Zanu PF order?
I will attempt to answer some but not all of these questions in the hope that this will lead to some critical debate  in the run up to the next elections whenever they would be held.

What the next elections are about

The next elections will literally determine whether Zanu PF will be part of the future or it will be cast in the dustbin of history to find companionship with Zambia’s former ruling party Unip, Malawi Congress Party and Kenya’s Kanu. The elections will be a referendum on Mugabe and Zanu PF.

In the same vein, if the MDC-T fails to win the next elections the party will almost likely implode within the next five years and give way to a Third Way which may replace it  as the largest opposition in the broader scheme of things, and more importantly form the next government. This would probably be in the 2018 elections.

Ncube and his MDC formation remain a dark horse and their greatest strength is their underdog status. However, the next elections are crucial to Ncube in the sense that if the party performs dismally it may fade into oblivion and be completely submerged by the MDC-T.

If Zapu decides to contest its claim to political legitimacy and indeed revival and relevance may be eroded before it is decimated. The other political parties such as the Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn project, MDC 99 and others may be reduced to electoral rubble.

In a sense therefore the next elections will determine the continued relevance and existence of all these political parties.

Zanu PF’s survival strategy

Zanu PF strategists realise that if they fail to adapt through use of force, political fraud or reform they will be fossilised and become glorified latter-day dinosaurs. Some in Zanu PF clearly prefer the tried-and-tested tactics of coercion — both physical and structural — as a means to win elections. Yet others prefer to repackage the party as the authentic liberation movement and voice of the people that can win an election using populist policies such as indigenisation which appeal not only to the unemployed masses, but also the urban elite, the new poor and intellectuals.

However, Zanu PF’s chances of winning the next elections are slim unless they resort to systematic political violence or outright vote-rigging, which the party is capable of.  For these reasons, including a loyal residual core of supporters, Zanu PF remains a force to reckon with.

The MDC-T’s approach

The MDC-T will be hoping that their partial incumbency in the government works in their favour .They would want to use their presence in the inclusive government to push their own agenda and muscle Zanu PF out of power if they can. The quasi-fiscal operations of the Reserve Bank, which some claimed were used to oil Zanu PF’s election machinery in the 2008 elections, have been checked by Finance Minister Tendai Biti, although the issue of Marange diamonds and how Zanu PF is possibly using them to finance its operations remains controversial and open to speculation.

Similarly, thousands of Zanu PF youths (75 000 ghost workers) who were on the public service payroll appear to have been removed thus compromising the Zanu PF election machinery and 2008 strategy. Tsvangirai has also used his presence in government to access areas which he previously had no access to campaign.

 

There is little indication though that the MDC-T has extended its influence to win the support of the embedded securocrats who effectively imposed Mugabe into power in June 2008. Beyond this, the MDC-T seems to be counting on its trump card, the protest vote against Mugabe and the perennial unpopularity of Zanu PF, to win the next elections.

MDC-N’s position

After a series of defections from his party, Ncube appears to have weathered the storm. The law professor has proved to be resilient and may become a worthy contender if he can bounce back and launch a meaningful nationwide grassroots campaign beyond his Matabeleland and Midlands favourite hunting ground.

Ncube might be helped by the fact that his ministers in the inclusive government have done fairly well and this could swing a few more votes in his party’s favour and probably enable him to pick up a few more seats, especially where his party lost by small margins in 2008.

He however has to battle hard against a polarised political environment which has sucked in the media, sections of civil society and part of the international community who have taken sides with one of the main parties. Obviously, Ncube and his party will not win the elections but they may end up holding the balance again in parliament.

Ncube’s strategy would predictably be to try and swing the protest vote in Matabeleland and his home province of the Midlands in his favour, something which may not be beyond his capacity, depending on his approach. He will also try and appeal to the middle class and rational voters or the undecided majority. Zimbabwe seems to be developing into a three-way party system largely because of lack of confidence in both Zanu PF and the MDC-T as is the case currently in Britain.

The Zapu/Dabengwa factor

Revived Zapu and Dumiso Dabengwa, who continues to rely on his liberation struggle mythical status, caused a few political tremors in the first part of last year when they re-launched themselves, but the party seems to be quickly fizzling out and has apparently lost momentum to Ncube’s party in Matabeleland and Midlands regions. Zapu is now desperately broke and may have no resources to mount a serious electoral challenge.

Conclusion

A broad alliance of progressive political parties encompassing the MDC-T, MDC-N and Zapu is the most desirable scenario but at the moment this appears unlikely. This leaves the outcome of the next elections up in the air.

 

Nkomo is the CEO of Habakkuk Trust. He writes here in his personal capacity. Email: dumisani.nkomo@gmail.com.

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