DESPITE allegations of a defective voters’ roll and claims of widespread rigging, the recently-concluded July 31 general elections may be remembered as an exercise where President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF resurrected to trounce his March 2008 conquerors, outgoing premier Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T.
The 49 parliamentary seats the MDC-T secured in this year’s elections (even including the 21 women for the National Assembly garnered under the proportional representation system) was a nosedive from the 100 it won in 2008, which gave it a slight parliamentary majority, the first ever by an opposition party since Independence.
Combined with the MDC, then led by Professor Arthur Mutambara and now Welshman Ncube, the two MDC parties had control of the National Assembly even though they did not have a two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.
Mugabe was trounced by Tsvangirai in the first round of polling and was heading for a crushing defeat until he resorted to a campaign of violence and intimidation to retain power amid bloodshed and killing of over 200 people.
However, Tsvangirai, who led the first round of the 2008 presidential poll with 47,8%, this time around received 1 172 349 votes, or 33,94%, while Mugabe got 2 110 434 votes (61,09%). Ncube won a mere 92 637 votes, or 2,68%.
This left Mugabe and Zanu PF firmly back in power amid allegations of rigging and fraud, while the MDC formations and other parties were in disarray.
This begs the question: Where to for opposition parties? Opposition parties have never really flourished under Mugabe’s rule since Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 for different reasons, main among them, political repression and a climate of fear.
Of course, lack of proper leadership, organisation, resources and an enabling environment, are also some of the factors which have stunted opposition growth.
Among the prominent opposition parties which have come and gone are veteran nationalists Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu, Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum), Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zanu Ndonga, the late former chief justice Enoch Dumbutshena’s Forum Party of Zimbabwe and war veteran Margaret Dongo’s Zimbabwe Union of Democrats.
Mugabe and Zanu PF used security forces, mainly the military, to attack and destroy PF Zapu, while the others parties choked under asphyxiating repression and fear as well as poor leadership and lack of organisation.
Only Tsvangirai’s MDC-T ––which has massive domestic popular support and huge external funding made inroads in attempts to bring change and possibly democracy to Zimbabwe.
So due to the political and economic meltdown at home which led to a protest vote for it against Zanu PF and solid support from abroad, the MDC-T came agonisingly close to ousting its rival which has mainly survived due to support from the state apparatus, particularly the army.
Had Mugabe not resorted to the military, violence and intimidation, Zanu PF would almost certainly be history by now. When history is written it will show Mugabe and Zanu PF have mainly survived due to abuse of state structures and resources as well as the military.
In the case of PF Zapu, Mugabe threw everything at it, including the military which intensified repression, fear, and killings to destroy it.
He unashamedly used ethnicity to fight his former liberation struggle comrades, dividing the population and the country, one of the legacies of his checkered rule.
But earlier opposition parties, which enjoyed little if any international support, were simply forced into political oblivion, and so were their leaders, save for Nkomo, who later became vice-president through the Unity Accord of 1987.
He writes eloquently in his book, The Story of My Life, about Mugabe’s ruthlessness in a bid to win and consolidate power.
However, when the MDC, which later split in 2005, emerged in 1999 things changed.
It appeared it was going to be only a matter of time before Mugabe and Zanu PF were defeated and pushed out of the political arena.
So Zanu PF’s defeat in 2008 came as no surprise, especially given the political and economic meltdown largely caused by Mugabe’s failed rule.
However, after four-and-half years in the coalition government, nobody ever dreamt Mugabe and Zanu PF, saved by the army in 2008, would bounce back.
But through a mixture of hard work, electoral institutions and military support, and rigging, Mugabe and his party are back with a bang.
While it is clear how Mugabe and Zanu PF won, the question is what went wrong for the MDC? Where to from here for the opposition parties?
Could it be that the MDC parties mainly have come full circle after failing to topple Mugabe and it is now high time for a new opposition party?
Notwithstanding the alleged chicanery, the magnitude of Zanu PF’s victory has raised the real possibility of the MDCs being consigned to the political dustbin already littered with the carcases of so many other opposition parties which since Independence 33 years ago have tried and failed to unseat Zanu PF.
Political analysts say the MDC parties failed to use the coalition government respite to strategise and campaign, while Zanu PF regrouped. They point to a lack of leadership and strategic thinking in the MDC parties, complacency and even arrogance.
Brian Raftopoulos, a senior research mentor at the University of the Western Cape, told the Zimbabwe Independent there was “little doubt that Zanu PF’s deliberate obstruction in fully implementing the reform measures, in particular changes to the security sector, made it difficult for the MDC parties to fully exploit any political spaces that may have opened up under such reforms.”
“However, the performance of the MDC parties left much to be desired and their lack of political co-ordination allowed Mugabe to weaken their effectiveness and exploit the differences between the two factions,” he said.
The MDC parties slept on the job, analysts say. So Sadc seemed, to quote celebrated African writer Chinua Achebe, “to weep louder than the owners of the corpse” in their steadfast insistence on the reforms.
That only served to bring out renewed aggression and unsavoury diatribe of profanities from Mugabe who targeted Lindiwe Zulu, a member of South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team.
So given the shortcomings of the MDC parties and failure at the last elections, is it not time for a new political party to emerge?
In the recent past there have been abortive attempts to launch so-called “Third Way” consisting of moderate Zanu PF elements and progressive members from the MDCs.
After the 2004 Zanu PF internal strife, Zanu PF heavyweight Emmerson Mnangagwa, assisted by former Information minister Jonathan Moyo and those in his faction then, reportedly tried to form a new “Third Way” party –– United People’s Movement. There was another attempt before the 2008 elections to form another one, the New Patriotic Front.
Political commentator Godwin Phiri says conditions are not ripe for another political party, particularly a “Third Way”, arguing “it cannot happen because it would require a significant number of people leaving both Zanu PF and the MDCs to make it possible.”
“Right now, Zanu PF is on the ascendancy, so it would be foolhardy for anyone to jump off the gravy train and join with disgruntled MDC members to form a third way,” said Phiri.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said a new party could only emerge if it is guided by the idea of filling an ideological void, not as a reaction to the recent elections results.
“Parties come in to fill ideological vacuums, so which one would this ‘Third Way’ be coming in to fill?,” asked Ruhanya?
He said the MDC parties had a solid social base resulting from strong social movements based on labour, civil society and students but they allowed it to disintegrate. So they need to go back to the drawing board to regroup, restrategise and fight back.
Some analysts however say only a new party can make a difference if it carefully works out the political and ideological space it has to occupy, comes up with good policy alternatives and real-world competent leadership.