OPPOSITION parties face an uphill task in the 2018 elections as they battle intra-party conflicts, simmering succession issues, an ailing major candidate who is a potential rallying point, donor fatigue, voter apathy and a Zanu PF party willing to cling on to power by fair means or foul.
By Wendy Muperi
Although President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF is considered to be at its weakest, as it is torn apart by succession battles, analysts say the party can still romp to victory in 2018 against a divided and fractured opposition which is failing to take advantage of the infighting and the economic implosion in country.
This is despite ongoing efforts by opposition parties to form a coalition.
Addressing guests at a dinner organised by the Iranian embassy this August, Mugabe dismissed the most formidable of the opposition pacts, the MDC Alliance, saying it was not a threat at all.
“We may have bits and pieces, lots of bits and pieces that call themselves parties trying to come together. And I have said before they don’t have any records, any records of their having been fighters anywhere,” he said. “Political zeroes. I have said no matter how many zeroes you try to put together, they never constitute a unit, they remain zeroes.”
While this may have been taken to mean the liberation party is banking on its long history and experience in elections, its ability to rig and use state machinery to influence outcomes in its favour, it is also a fact that the opposition is in tatters and is not doing much to inspire voters to cast ballots next year.
The excitement which people had when opposition parties started talking about a grand coalition is fast fading as it fails to take off as expected, owing to personality clashes and power struggles among other differences.
Modalities on how positions and power are to be shared, which parties to be included and who is qualified to lead the grand coalition have resulted in the mushrooming of electoral pacts including the MDC Alliance led by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, People’s Rainbow Coalition led by Joice Mujuru and Elton Mangoma’s Coalition of Democrats (Code).
MDC-T vice-president Thokozani Khupe is against the MDC Alliance and was reportedly beaten up in August for snubbing the launch of the pact.
Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party has also split with the splinter group joining Code, angered by Biti’s decision to be part of the MDC Alliance.
Biti commented on micro-blogging site Twitter: “How ironic when unity will be the cause for disunity.”
The MDC Alliance, which is considered the stronger of the coalitions, has not yet hit the campaign trail. While there are serious doubts about Mugabe, who turns 94 in February, there are equally grave misgivings about the viability of Tsvangirai’s candidature as he has been battling cancer of the colon since June last year.
In addition, there is a growing sentiment within MDC-T ranks and the public that Tsvangirai should create room for a successor following his failure to wrest power in an 18-year tussle with Mugabe.
Unlike in the early days, donor fatigue has now set in, leaving the main opposition parties struggling to meet their staff salaries, let alone fund campaigns. In July, MDC-T property was attached over a US$108 000 debt owed to the party’s former employee Sally Dura.
This is in sharp contrast to the ruling party which has unfettered access to state resources to bankroll their campaign. The party has spent millions to acquire vehicles as part of preparations for the upcoming elections.
Moreover, Zanu PF has been mobilising voters since 2013 through by-elections. Of late, the party has launched its 2018 campaign with “youth interface” rallies which have seen Mugabe canvassing for support across the country’s 10 provinces.
In December, the ruling party will hold a special congress expected to cost US$8 million and bringing together at least 10 000 members in Harare to reaffirm Mugabe as the Zanu PF presidential candidate. The special congress is also expected to deal with factional issues as well as rally party structures ahead of the polls.
Political analyst and visiting politics lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa Mike Mavura said while there are many electoral malpractices which have been militating against an opposition victory, it appears the opposition parties are getting weaker with each election.
“Apart from the MDC-T, we are really talking about spaza (makeshift) political outfits, these other small projects.
Some will say, well, Zanu PF is now divided too but I think let’s not compare oranges to apples … when it’s crunch time Mugabe is the only faction within Zanu PF. What should unite the opposition (anti-Mugabeism) seems weaker than what divides them and voters. Wonder why?” Mavura asked. “However, in my view despite all the problems of the opposition that you speak of, ultimately what it comes down to is what elections mean for Zanu PF and what they mean for the opposition. For Zanu PF, elections are an illusion of democratic due diligence whereas for the opposition they are a pathway to power — poles apart! Zanu PF’s view of power is by any means necessary whereas for the opposition it is by elections only.”
Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said the conditions including financial and economic crisis, unemployment, high levels of poverty, crackdown on vendors and Zanu PF infighting are conducive for an opposition victory were it astute enough to exploit the opportunity.
“Instead of harnessing these low-hanging political fruits, our opposition are proving to be big-headed, green, dense and useless, hence creating many unnecessary coalitions, fighting each other yet their real adversary is Zanu PF,” said Saungweme. “Headlines and political debate are featuring prominently Zanu PF infighting, Lacoste and G40, reshuffling of cabinet etc. Instead of the opposition capitalising on these and ensuring they deal a final blow to Zanu PF in the coming election, they are mute, on a political sabbatical and nowhere to be found. Right now they are waiting for Zanu PF to do something, for them to be reactionary.”
He urged opposition parties to set aside their love for power.
“The opposition needs to re-think and refrain from thinking of political spoils they don’t have. They need to coalesce under one strong leader and then confront Zanu PF, win and discuss power-sharing among themselves.
Otherwise they are wasting voters’ time,” he said.
Saungweme said the opposition has also been paralysed by infiltration by ruling party spooks.