Ego and power: The bane to opposition grand coalition

CONFUSION reigns supreme over the fate of the much-touted grand coalition of opposition parties ahead of the 2018 general elections amid indications an electoral pact could suffer a stillbirth due to the bloated egos of political actors.

By Taurai Mangudhla

An economic implosion triggered by massive company closures, weakening commodity prices and depreciating regional currencies has created some currency on the need for social movements and political parties to coalesce and form a formidable force to challenge President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF, in power since independence in 1980, is grappling with growing fissures as hawkish politicians angle to succeed an ageing Mugabe. Mugabe will be 94 when Zimbabwe goes to the next elections.

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice-president Joice Mujuru — who is now leader of a new outfit mainly composed of Zanu PF leaders purged after the party’s 2014 congress — are now seen as possible leaders of a new coalition, which analysts warn could suffer a stillbirth. With just over a year before ballots are cast, none of the two frontrunners appears ready to be a running mate in the elections.

Concerns over Tsvangira’s health following his disclosure that he was battling cancer of the colon has resulted in serious debate on who could lead the coalition, should this happen. Tsvangirai’s sympathisers do not trust Mujuru, saying her decision to form a political party was not out of choice but the result of ejection from a party she served for 34 years.

Former finance minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Tendai Biti last month told our sister paper NewsDay that egos are a threat to the success of the coalition.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult in Zimbabwe to have coalitions, there are a lot of egocentric and selfish actors in our discourse, but I think we have to do better,” Biti said.

Biti’s assertion appears to be the most accurate description of the complications surrounding negotiations for a pre-election pact among Zimbabwe’s 16 or so opposition political parties, judging by the public statements and rants coming from some opposition leaders.

Parties in the coalition talks have attacked each other publicly, massaging their egos and heightening the threats to the success of a pre-election pact. The latest fight among these parties is Biti’s attack on MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai last weekend.

PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume on Tuesday concurred with Biti, arguing that egos are the biggest threat to coalition success.

“The biggest challenge is that for some weird reason the people who want to lead want to appear as if they are doing you a favour by allowing you to join them. They make it like you should plead to be joining them yet others may have reached the height of their political leadership with no capacity to lead the country. Even if Mugabe were to go, I believe some of them will find someone to oppose because it’s more of a psychological issue which we need to solve,” Mafume said.

Asked about the challenges hampering the progress of coalition talks, MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu urged Zimbabweans to remain hopeful of a formidable opposition coalition in time for the elections in 2018. Misguided egos, he said, are not a threat to the process.

“Serious negotiations about something as important as an electoral coalition are never conducted in the public domain. No serious politician will go on top of Mount Kilimanjaro and announce that he or she is doing this or that thing in order to coalesce with other political parties for a critical election,” Gutu said. “Personal egos are not really a major threat to the formation of a formidable coalition. Do you know that both Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have very huge egos? But did that stop them from forming a coalition that won the elections in Kenya in 2011?

Zimbabweans should learn to be patient about this issue of coalitions. There is absolutely no need to panic.”

ZimPF spokesperson Jelousy Mawarire downplayed the teething problems that could be faced by a planned grand coalition.

“There are no sticking issues, there is nothing and we actually read about it in the newspapers. They have welcomed us and we want a sustainable project that does not only quantify votes but have a roadmap for structural turnaround of our country,” Mawarire said.

He said political parties are yet to agree on the leadership of the coalition.

“The issue is these leaders are popular figures and already lead their respective political parties. When the time comes, they will agree and tell you who is what, but right now there is no agreement yet,” Mawarire added. “We are under no illusion that 16 people will lead the coalition so by getting into a coalition one is fully aware they might not be the leader and anyone who insists on being the leader will never join a coalition.”

Political scientist Eldred Masunungure said opposition parties tend to disintegrate for reasons including infiltration by the ruling party and a clash of egos.

“Another impediment is obviously the very big growing egos of political party leaders,” Masunungure said. “The anomaly is that we have very big names, such as Elton Mangoma and Biti, heading small political parties except for Tsvangirai though the MDC-T has been diminishing in terms of numerical value. Mujuru uses media for portraying anecdotal strength and threat she is a force to reckon with and we have a challenge unless these big names swallow their egos and defer to public interest.

“Mujuru is suspected of being a leader of a faction of Zanu PF outside Zanu PF. There is a lot of suspicion about working together with someone who was in government for 34 years and Zanu PF for 40 years,” he said, adding “this undermines negotiations because even if the alliance flies I don’t think it will fly very far”. He said a coalition of opposition political parties is not only desirable but necessary in Zimbabwe.

“There are various examples of the infinity of combining forces rather than flying solo where you are dealing with long-established regimes. There are lessons to be learnt from Gambia, for instance, which is evidence of the viability of a pre-electoral coalition,” he said.

Political analyst Charity Manyeruke said the biggest challenge is the issue of personalities where the leaders of political parties just want to lead at all costs.

“I believe they all want to be leaders because they want to control financial resources and they are looking at their pockets,” she said.