Internal democracy and power battles in parties

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ZIMBABWE’S two main political parties — Zanu PF and MDC-T — find themselves embroiled in serious turmoil due to increasing internal strife fuelled by long-running succession power struggles, threatening their own survival while showing how chaotic the local polity is.

By Elias Mambo

Incessant power struggles in Zanu PF and the MDC-T, the parties which straddle the Zimbabwean political landscape, has had a negative impact on the state and its subordinate civil authorities, municipalities and other prefectures.

Exactly four months after the controversial July 31 general elections, the two rival parties are swimming in murky political waters manifested through infighting as happened in the MDC-T after its defeat in the general elections and as is the case now in Zanu PF during the course of its provincial polls.

While the problems stem from many contradictions in the parties, the main dynamic seems to be the succession debate in both parties where leadership renewal has spawned serious power struggles. While President Robert Mugabe is under intense pressure to clarify the succession issue, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is fighting for political survival after his crushing defeat in the recent elections.

In Zanu PF, a fiercely contested race has intensified between Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed the ageing Mugabe who will be 90 years in February. So intense has been the battle fuelled by the party’s provincial elections that Mugabe had to convene an extraordinary Zanu PF politburo meeting last Saturday in a bid to contain the problem and allow the completion of the polls.

While the politburo came up with some resolutions which seem to have temporarily doused the succession flames, the extinguished fires could soon be rekindled ahead of the party’s annual conference, itself a precursor to the elective congress set for December next year. It is widely expected that Mugabe will indicate then when he will step down or actually quit, although the latter is a remote possibility given his obfuscated ambition to be president for life.

In the MDC-T, Tsvangirai appears to be clinging on, but matters might come to a head when the party holds its own congress in 2016. It will become clearer towards the congress whether he will hang on or will be forced out as the party starts preparing for the 2018 elections.

While Zanu PF and the MDC-T differ in terms of their history and ideology, they have a common problem of having a dominant or hegemonic party leader — both of them now drunk with power and fully clad in personality cults — who refuses to relinquish power even when it is clear that he has overstayed his welcome.

Even if Tsvangirai’s situation is different from that of Mugabe, who has been at the helm of Zanu PF since 1977 and in state power since 1980, his defeats in elections in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008 and recently in July have made his position untenable.

What worsens the situation in both Zanu PF and the MDC-T is that their constitutions are silent on the issue of succession.

The Zanu PF constitution states that a candidate, without specifying the position of that person in the party, for any of the presidium posts — president, two vice-presidents and chairperson — needs the endorsement of six out of 10 provinces to win, but is silent on what happens if the leader of the party is incapacitated or dies. It only speaks about what happens if the leader is away.

The original MDC-T constitution had term limits, but the party dropped that in 2009 to make Tsvangirai’s tenure in office indefinite. The MDC-T removed Clause 6.1.3, which stated the president shall serve a maximum of two terms.

No amendment was brought before the party’s last congress in 2006 to remove the limit, which made the change unconstitutional. According to the MDC-T constitution, any amendment to the constitution requires approval by at least two-thirds of delegates present and voting at congress.

Although the MDC led by Welshman Ncube has two five-year-term limits for its president, it has also not been spared infighting as senior officials challenged the party leader, with some even suggesting he must be removed. The recent expulsion, in a series of suspensions and dismissals which have rocked the party before, of Matabeleland South provincial chairperson Petros Mukwena for allegedly insulting party secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga whose nomination to the National Assembly he vehemently opposed, shows the party has serious internal leadership problems.

In the aftermath of its dismal showing in the elections, the MDC has been hit by instability and as a result some senior officials like policy director Qhubani Moyo left.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said post-election developments have shown political parties are not yet mature as shown by power struggles triggered by lack of internal democracy and succession squabbles. He said parties in Zimbabwe are still green when it comes to handling internal contradictions, internal democracy and succession issues, which explains the turmoil in Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC. The same thing happened after the 2008 elections in Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and other many opposition parties before.

“Zanu PF had frozen its factional power struggle ahead of the general elections and now they are in it full throttle as it begins to sink in that Mugabe cannot live forever and is not going to be there for eternity,” Masunungure said.

“This has caused all the internal strife as leaders position themselves strategically to take over from Mugabe. This is caused by a dominant, hegemonic approach of party leaders who stifle internal democratic debate and hang onto power for a long time.”

Masunungure also said the MDC-T has similar problems when it comes to internal democracy and succession.

Mugabe has previously lashed out at infighting among senior Zanu PF officials jockeying to succeed him, saying the succession issue was destroying the party.

Mugabe has been quoted as saying: “This succession issue is creating problems, stop it. Stop it; what’s the problem? There are no vacancies. Let’s not be over-ambitious. Time will come when vacancies will exist, but there are no vacancies now. None at all.”

After his election defeat, Tsvangirai also said he is not ready to throw in the towel and will hang on until he becomes Zimbabwe’s next president.

“I am determined to be the president of the country and I will be,” Tsvangirai said in a BBC interview in the UK in October this year. He brushed aside calls from within and outside his party for him to step down.

Masunungure pointed out: “The MDC-T is finding it difficult to reconcile itself with the controversial defeat and the trauma from such defeat manifests itself through power struggles.”

On the Ncube-led MDC, Masunungure said: “MDC is breathing its last breath because it has been devastated by internal struggles which have left it destined for extinction.”

Academic and political analyst Brian Raftopoulos said the trouble with Zimbabwe politics is that the actors are concentrating on gaining state power for its own sake, not serving the public good.

“Naturally after an election, all political parties would look into their internal issues to see where they went wrong and map a way forward,” Raftopoulos said.

“However, for Zimbabwean politics the problem is that all political players want state power for its own sake, so that’s why we are witnessing these internal struggles at the expense of focusing on governance issues. Alternative movements are necessarily built within particular national contexts and often these movements reproduce and assimilate aspects of the undemocratic cultures they are attempting to challenge and replace.”

Raftopoulos said this has resulted in a more general malaise in the state where policy issues have become captive to internal struggles within the ruling party.

While Zanu PF already has a long history of power struggles which resulted in the sidelining or expulsion of luminaries like the late Edison Zvobgo and Edgar Tekere, it has no experience in smoothly handling succession matters.

Another political analyst Alexander Rusero said what the political parties in Zimbabwe are experiencing is a manifestation of the protracted leadership wrangles and their poor management.

“These political parties have a long history of unsettled leadership problems, with those with ambitions to take over being thwarted and punished while the incumbent wants to continue holding on to power indefinitely. This is a sign of how bad the state of Zimbabwean politics is.” Rusero said.

However, for Zimbabwean politics the problem is that all political players want state power for its own sake, so that’s why we are witnessing these internal struggles at the expense of focusing on governance issues. Alternative movements are necessarily built within particular national contexts and often these movements reproduce and assimilate aspects of the undemocratic cultures they are attempting to challenge and replace.

2 thoughts on “Internal democracy and power battles in parties”

  1. Dr. Dlodlo esq says:

    The MDC strife is very artificial and being sponsored by Zanu Pf.

  2. Nkosi Mambo says:

    A good article with very apt analysis. Yes, Zimbabwean politics is still marked by immature political players and movements. The leaders are not accountable to anyone but themselves. They are not there to offer a service but to offer themselves access to state coffers. Even the supporters themselves are still immature as they tend to glorify political leaders turning them into cult figures instead of always reminding them that if they don’t deliver what they promised during elections their political life is over. The word ‘service’ that should be the basis of politics in the whole world is unknown to the political language in Zimbabwe and Africa in general. Hence ‘service delivery’ is an anathema to political agents in Zimbabwe.

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