AFTER MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death, opposition parties and civil society groups need to re-imagine their role and reposition themselves ahead of the next general elections, and for the future. Opposition parties and civic groups play a critical role in the democratic and development agenda of the country.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The MDC-T, the core of the MDC Alliance, the biggest opposition coalition for elections, must first put its house in order. There are other coalitions around National People’s Party leader Joice Mujuru who leads the people’s Rainbow Alliance and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe leader Elton Mangoma who heads the Coalition for Democrats.
All these three grouping must come together for elections if they are to have a fighting chance of winning the elections. The idea is that the elections must be free, fair, credible and competitive. As President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been saying, and hopefully he means it, the elections must be peaceful, free and fair.
The MDC-T, as the main opposition party, must lead by example. It has to resolve its leadership succession problem amicably and with dignity. It cannot afford to use violence and ethnicity as that would simply result in it losing the moral high ground, legitimacy and credibility among voters.
Although its de facto leader Nelson Chamisa has seized the moment and taken control of the party structures, the MDC-T still faces hard and serious political and constitutional questions as it navigates its succession matrix.
Party co-vice-president Thokozani Khupe, a victim of violent threats this week, is claiming she should be the interim leader until an extraordinary congress to elect a new leader is held within 12 months. Of course, Chamisa is disputing this and has been endorsed by the MDC-T’s national council, the party’s supreme decision-making body in between congresses. Another co-vice-president Elias Mudzuri is also jostling to lead the party. Politically, it does not really matter who is right or wrong among the three MDC-T heavyweights, but what is important is how they resolve the dispute. The survival of the party, its strategic objectives and electoral imperatives should guide them on how to settle the issue, and focus on the bigger picture — elections and beyond.
Another consideration is that currently parties increasingly have to pay attention to the electoral appeal of likely candidates and the leader rather than ideology, standing in the party or even ability. Whether this is a welcome criterion is a matter for debate.
The MDC-T must learn a thing or two from older and more institutionalised parties like South Africa’s governing ANC. After a bruising elective conference last December and the recent removal of former president Jacob Zuma, only this week new President Cyril Ramaphosa held a gala dinner for his predecessor in a jovial and good-humoured atmosphere as the party regrouped.
This is how mature, serious and progressive leaders behave. The MDC-T cannot behave like Zanu PF which resolves its internal succession problems through tanks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns.
Beyond internal strife within the MDC-T, the opposition needs to find new ways of framing and interpreting critical national issues which matter the most to voters. It must also study the demographic profile of voters and tailor its campaign messages, policies and programmes to address key issues with voters’ demographics and interests in mind.
There must also be a deliberate attempt to shift people’s voting behaviour and choices. Zimbabwean electoral politics is dominated by voters who cast their ballots based on positional — that is ideological and policy — preferences, rather than Valence politics, competence voting that is.
The MDC-T and its allies must grapple with all these issues as they try to re-imagine their role in this new environment and how the elections will be fought. Opposition leaders cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again, and expect different results as that is the very definition of insanity.