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Battleground regions emerge

WITH the clock ticking inexorably towards make-or-break elections slated for the first half of next year, Manicaland, Masvingo and the three Matabeleland provinces – which traditionally harbour deep-seated hostility towards Zanu PF over centralised authority in Harare and marginalisation – are emerging as key battlegrounds likely to decide the outcome.

Report by Faith Zaba

A close examination of the forthcoming elections and attendant dynamics show the polls would be won or lost mainly in the three provinces.

For the two main political parties, Zanu PF and MDC-T, and their respective leaders to win, they would need to put their ducks in a row there.

Given Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe thrive on the rural vote and are almost guaranteed to hang onto their Mashonaland strongholds, the MDC-T and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would have to hold fast in their urban fiefdoms and regions like Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland to stand a chance of winning.

If Zanu PF regains Masvingo and Manicaland, while maintaining other areas it would win. If MDC-T loses these two and Matabeland it would be gone. The Midlands remains under Zanu PF although it is potentially up for grabs.

If the MDC-T and Tsvangirai retain the Matabeleland – no go area for Mugabe and Zanu PF – that enhances their chances of winning. But if they lose there and the MDC and its leader Welshman Ncube wins, a new situation, which favours Mugabe and Zanu PF by default as it helps them contain the MDC-T and Tsvangirai, arises.

Prospects for another coalition government will loom large.

Senior Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC officials say Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland would be the battlegrounds.

“These three regions or five provinces, if you like, will largely determine the outcome of the elections. As Zanu PF we are comfortable in the three Mashonaland provinces and to some extent Midlands, but we need to retain Masvingo and Manicaland to win,” a senior Zanu PF official said.

“Matabeleland is not important to us as we can’t win there but what happens in those areas affects us a lot. If the MDC-T and Tsvangirai have a free run, that keeps them strong, which really makes Masvingo and Manicaland critical.”

Zanu PF has for months now been working on the ground in Masvingo and Manicaland. The deployment of the military there shows how seriously the party wants to seize the decisive regions.

An MDC-T official said: “We will fight to keep Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland as they are key to the equation.”

Loss of support in populous Masvingo and Manicaland provinces with 26 seats each in the House of Assembly was central to Zanu PF and Mugabe’s defeat in the 2008 March elections.

In Manicaland, Zanu PF won a mere six of the 26 seats, while in Masvingo it only did marginally better with 11 seats to MDC-T’s 15.

Mugabe lost to Tsvangirai in the first round of the 2008 presidential election after getting 43,2% of the total vote to Tsvangirai’s 47,9%, while Mavambo/ Kusile/Dawn leader Simba Makoni polled 8,3%.

Close to 1,196 million voted for Tsvangirai, with Mugabe getting 1,08 million – a gap which makes Masvingo and Manicaland critical to the outcome even though changes in other provinces could also affect the results.

Matabeleland, which holds the balance of power, will be a battlefield. Ncube and the MDC are preparing for what one of their officials described as “Battle of Stalingrad” around Bulawayo and other Matabeleland provinces. Tsvangirai and the MDC-T would also naturally fight to keep their decisive territories.

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