THAT a coalition of opposition political parties and movements is seen as a formidable force to end President Robert Mugabe’s prolonged rule appears to be an open secret for many Zimbabweans pinning their hopes on a political solution to halt socio-economic implosion.
By Wongai Zhangazha
But haggling, jostling and inflated egos have impeded progress towards a pact.
The better part of 2016 saw the idea to form a united front to remove Mugabe from power in the 2018 general elections hanging in the balance as opposition parties spent time focussing on serious contestations and jockeying for power before formal negotiations had even begun.
Mugabe’s controversial rule has been characterised by massive company closures, deteriorating public health facilities, increased poverty levels, high unemployment, among other signs of failure. This has given social movements and political parties the impetus to coalesce and challenge his stay in power.
Mugabe will be 94 when Zimbabwe goes to the 2018 elections.
However, sectarian differences among the opposition parties have undermined the nascent pact as political actors scramble to position their preferred candidates in the race to lead the coalition.
MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe People First leader Joice Mujuru are seen as front runners to lead the coalition.
Mujuru’s supporters want her to lead the coalition because they say she has liberation credentials while MDC-T members say their leader Tsvangirai has been in the opposition trenches longer and has beaten Mugabe before in the 2008 March elections.
Moreover, some opposition parties 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 in various capacities including that of vice-president.
In Bulawayo at the MDC-T’s 17th anniversary celebrations last year the slogan was “2018 Tsvangirai chete chete” (Tsvangirai for president 2018), a warning that they will not accept another person leading the coalition.
However, Tsvangirai’s disclosure that he was battling cancer of the colon reignited fierce debate as to who should lead the coalition.
Parties in the coalition talks have attacked each other publicly. An example is People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Tendai Biti’s acerbic attack on Tsvangirai in December, denouncing him as foolish and tactless.
This made it even more difficult for the fragmented opposition parties to work together.
Tsvangirai, in a statement, hit back in apparent reference to Biti, saying his party sought a pact “that minimises the unknowns by providing an equitable and scientific and objective basis for approaching the election based on known strengths of political leaders and parties nationally and in given electoral districts”.
Analysts said Tsvangirai’s type of coalition shuts out the likes of Biti, whose PDP party has not contested in any election since its formation two years ago.
In May, five opposition parties formed a coalition called the Coalition of Democrats (Code) to challenge Mugabe and his Zanu PF party in the 2018 general elections.
The parties were Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn led by Simba Makoni, Welshman Ncube’s Movement for Democratic Change formation, Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe led by Elton Mangoma, Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment and Zimbabweans United for Democracy.
PDP and Zapu led by liberation icon Dumiso Dabengwa were not eager to join the coalition, saying they wanted to consult their members.
Three months later, 20 opposition political parties came together to form the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (Nera) to push for electoral reforms ahead of the elections.
The move was seen as a precursor to an electoral pact.
Some political parties met in South Africa last year in talks to concretise a coalition but it was snubbed by both ZimPF and MDC-T.
In September last year Nera tried to organise demonstrations against Mugabe and his government but they flopped after it was crushed by the police. Despite the promise of more protests, they never materialised.
Political analysts this week said the bickering among opposition political parties should stop in 2017 as this year is critical for opposition parties to demonstrate maturity and agree on how best they can work together ahead of the elections in 2018.