Coalitions of personalities rather unhelpful

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The much-touted opposition coalition for next year’s general elections is in danger of degenerating into a monumental circus if the unhealthy obsession with personalities at the expense of values and principles continues unabated.

Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

Opposition coalitions have become common in Africa in recent decades, but they have met with mixed success. Occasionally, they have toppled a deeply entrenched ruling party, but for the most part they have failed to make significant headway in unseating powerful incumbents.

As I write this, we have seen the emergence of two coalitions — instead of one. One has coalesced around MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and another is forming around National People’s Party president Joice Mujuru. What a farce!

How on earth do opposition leaders squander precious time squabbling over posts and parliamentary jobs for the boys instead of focussing on the all-important task of outlining the vision, objectives and principles of the envisaged partnership?
Let us take a look at both Tsvangirai and Mujuru.

Tsvangirai has been in the opposition trenches for almost two decades. In that time, he has tasted success and failure. The highpoint of his political life came in 2008 when he outpolled President Robert Mugabe in the first round of the presidential race. A lot of miscalculations were witnessed after that, but nobody can begrudge him the fact that he rattled Zanu PF and in many ways transformed the politics of this country. There have been several low points, including the political fratricide which has seen the original MDC split repeatedly since 2005.

While past glory is important, it cannot be the only criterion for choosing a coalition leader. What the coalition needs are new ideas, fresh energy and renewed momentum. Is Tsvangirai justified in posturing as the coalition’s centre of gravity?

Mujuru is marketing herself as the best candidate to lead the opposition coalition. Her allies are quick to mention that she has liberation war credentials and vast experience in government. They also argue that, as a woman, she brings more to the table than any man can. Those who are not convinced of Mujuru’s suitability say she brings toxic baggage from her Zanu PF past. The most cynical observers argue that, had she not been kicked out of Zanu PF, she would still be a happy leader of that party.

If Tsvangirai and Mujuru are serious about the 2018 elections, they must accept the fact that a grand coalition is not about personalities, but about principles and values. Although coalition negotiations are notoriously difficult to navigate, especially in a polarised setting, the objectives of an equitable partnership remain clear: to consolidate electoral support and maximise on the political impact of the parties’ collective strengths.

The so-called grand coalition can only succeed if the political parties’ goals are compatible and the benefits of uniting are greater than the costs of division.

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