Chamisa, Mwonzora battle intensifies

Chamisa-MDC-leader.jpg

In this Thursday, March 8, 2018 photo, the leader of MDC-T, Zimbabwe's biggest opposition party, Nelson Chamisa gestures during an interview with the Associated Press in Harare. Ahead of Zimbabwe's crucial elections this year, the biggest opposition party has selected a charismatic lawyer and pastor to challenge the military-backed president in the first vote without former leader Robert Mugabe in decades. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

MDC Alliance secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora says he is weighing his options ahead of the opposition party’s elective congress next year and may challenge party leader Nelson Chamisa, if he mobilises adequate majority backing.

By Tinashe Kairiza

This comes after MDC vice-president Morgen Komichi said at a rally last week in Mutoko that party members should not vote for anyone else for the presidency except for Chamisa at the forthcoming elective congress next year.

However, Mwonzora this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that Komichi was expressing his “personal views” and not necessarily the position of the party, which allows members to freely contest for any position without any restrictions.

“The constitution allows us to have elections after every five years. At those elections people can contest for positions that they want. If what I read about what Komichi said is true that would be his preference. I am talking about the general rights of membership. In terms of the MDC constitution, any member is free to contest for any position,” Mwonzora said.

“If Mr Komichi thinks Chamisa should be president, it is his democratic right to think so as a member. At no point did Komichi speak about party positions. Mr Komichi was talking for himself. In issues of this nature, people can only talk for themselves. Senior members of the party have a right to speak about their preferences, but they must accept that others have a right to say what they want to say as well. What is not right is to stop everyone else to think differently. We must accept that there are people who think differently within the party.”

Mwonzora said he would consider running for the presidency, if he is backed by the majority of its membership.

“I have not yet made up my mind regarding which position I am going to contest for at the congress. Having said that, I am aware as a lawyer myself of the rights that an MDC member has-and an MDC member has the right to vote, and to be voted for in any position. I do not wish to throw my rights away in that regard. Definitely, if I want to contest for something no one will stop me. I am aware of my rights as a member of the party which rights nobody can take away from me. It is the right to vote and to be voted for in an area that will be of my choosing,” he said.

Mwonzora, who has clashed with Chamisa over the recent expulsion of mayors, said up to five officials, including a diasporan, had expressed interest in the presidency.

Mwonzora’s name has featured prominently among party stalwarts believed to be seeking to challenge Chamisa for the MDC leadership. In 2014, Mwonzora beat Chamisa for the secretary-general’s post. However, Chamisa was later elevated to the party’s vice-presidency together with former Harare mayor Elias Mudzuri by late party leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Chamisa, however, took over the party leadership ahead of elected vice-president Thokozani Khupe without going to congress, following Tsvangirai’s death in February. Khupe has now left to go it alone.

“I am aware of a number of people who are considering running for the presidency of the party. It is not a crime, it is allowed. I am aware of five people who are considering running for the presidency. Some people have said it, some people have acted it.They are allowed to contest for positions. They have full rights to contest,” Mwonzora said.

Earlier this month, he told the Independent a potential dark horse candidate could challenge Chamisa for the top post “from outside the ranks of the party”.

“I know of one candidate who is not within the ranks of the party (eager to contest for the presidency),” Mwonzora said.

Chamisa and Mwonzora have in recent weeks clashed over the MDC leader’s directive that party officials elected as mayors or deputy mayors should step down from the positions in favour of party-handpicked persons.

Bulawayo deputy mayor Tinashe Kambarami, Victoria Falls mayor Somvelo Dlamini and Chegutu mayor Henry Muchatibaya were fired by the MDC, dividing the party in the process.

In separate interviews, Chamisa and Mwonzora early this month expressed divergent views over the expulsions.

Mwonzora said the expulsions were illegal while Chamisa stated that they would be upheld.

“The exact position is that the provincial executives do not have the right or the power to expel a member from the party. We view expulsion as a death sentence in the party and therefore it does not have to be easy. I also maintain what I said in my letter to the provinces that when people suspend officials, that suspension must be approved by the national organising committee. Before anybody is punished, under the MDC they must be subjected to due process. They must be heard, they must be given the right to give their explanation.

“I am happy to note that the Victoria Falls province has reversed the suspension and are now requesting for a hearing.

However, Mwonzora said the expulsions were “null and void”.

Chamisa insisted the party would uphold the suspensions.

“Mayors are chosen by councillors. There is no provision for the public to do that process. The problem is that they got a directive from Zanu PF and other external forces,” Chamisa said. “So people cannot go around saying they were democratically elected. That is why the whip had to be cracked. It is a pretty straightforward issue.”

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