NOW that the MDC elective congress has been conducted, resolving the party’s leadership dispute in the process, the party should now focus on playing a critical role towards resolving Zimbabwe’s intractable economic and political crisis through proposing policy alternatives and building its support base, among other issues.
By Tinashe Kairiza
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa retained the presidency, while party returnees and opposition heavyweights Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti were elected vice-presidents during the party’s first elective congress following the death of founding president Morgan Tsvangirai. The former prime minister succumbed to colon cancer in 2017.
The elective congress, which was almost scuppered by urgent High Court applications by party members opposing the legality of the event, was held in Gweru last week.
Prior to the elective congress, Chamisa’s legitimacy as the party’s president came under intense scrutiny, after he thrust himself at the helm of the party outside its constitutional dictates following Tsvangirai’s death. The youthful opposition leader was the MDC Alliance president in last year’s disputed elections, which were narrowly won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
With the MDC leadership dispute resolved, Chamisa should be at the forefront of proffering alternative solutions to the country’s unrelenting economic crisis, characterised by spiralling commodity prices, widespread company closures, acute foreign currency shortages and a gargantuan debt stock estimated at close to US$20 billion, among a plethora of challenges stalking the southern African country.
Yet Chamisa’s first priority should be ridding the MDC of creeping in dictatorial tendencies, which, prior to the elective congress, were gradually setting in the party, disillusioning many of its followers. Even during Tsvangirai’s time, the veteran opposition leader was severely criticised for sacrificing the party’s constitution on the altar of political expediency.
Fostering democracy and constitutionalism within the opposition party would be crucial, while it could also add impetus to calls for Mnangagwa’s administration to uphold the rule of law.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme says in the post-elective congress period, the MDC under the leadership of Chamisa should distinguish itself from Zanu PF by nurturing a culture of democracy and constitutionalism.
The MDC’s popularity stock has grown exponentially over the years since its formation in 1999, inversely proportional to the disregard of the rule of law, corruption and mismanagement in Zimbabwe on the watch of the Zanu PF government.
“The biggest thing they have to do is distinguish themselves from Zanu PF. As they stand now; they are the same with Zanu PF on neoliberal, pro-capital pro-profit economic ideology. They also believe in tonnes of foreign aid to address our issues. They also have bloated party structures and lack of internal democracy,” Saungweme said.
“What they need to do is to show us true alternative policies and approaches as we get to 2023. They cannot make it by just whipping up national sentiment in the face of Zanu PF economic failures without proffering truly different policy alternatives. Clear pro-poor policy propositions with a clear implementation strategy and fostering internal party democracy is what will see MDC succeed in 2023.”
Proposing alternative policies and setting up structures at grassroots level will be crucial in winning over the rural constituents.
During the 2018 elections, it was the sheer strength of numbers — the MDC disputes this — in the rural areas that carried Mnangagwa to the country’s presidency.
In some constituencies, MDC failed to appoint election agents amid allegations that Zanu PF took advantage of the situation to rig.
Mnangagwa won overwhelmingly in rural constituencies. In Mashonaland Central Mnangagwa polled 366 785 votes compared to Chamisa’s 97 097 votes, while in Masvingo he received 319 073 votes with the opposition leader managing 171 196 votes.
In Mashonaland East, Mnangagwa received 334 617 votes whereas Chamisa got 189 024 votes while in the Midlands, Mnangagwa polled 350 754 votes compared to Chamisa’s 255 059 votes.
Mnangagwa garnered 312 958 votes in Mashonaland West, while Chamisa got 217 732.
Chamisa only won the popular vote in Manicaland and Matabeleland North, albeit by a slim margin.
Chamisa says the election was rigged.
The opposition party should also ratchet up pressure on government, to proffer robust solutions to resolve Zimbabwe’s vicious economic crisis. The MDC should advance a clear policy framework anchored on currency reforms, resolving the country’s US$18, 8 billion debt, ending job losses and arresting widespread company closures.
With Zimbabwe’s economy hurtling down the abyss, critics have contended that the economic crisis would remain the major talking point at the 2023 polls, and political leadership that shows the will to resolve it may win hearts and minds.
Part of the strategy towards resolving the economic crisis would be through dialogue, a resolution that the MDC elective congress adopted. However, the MDC should spell out a clear dialogue framework that openly states what the party intends to achieve from that, bearing in mind that Mnangagwa’s presidency, though disputed, was upheld by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt).
At its just-ended congress, the MDC resolved to pursue the dialogue path, as part of its strategy to force Mnangagwa to immaturely end his five-year term, since winning elections in 2018.
In the face of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, political analyst Ibbo Mandaza says that the MDC, in the short-term, should concentrate on ratcheting pressure on Mnangagwa through co-ordinating countrywide “non-violent protests”, while engaging the international community to extend the southern African country an economic bailout package.
“At the end of congress the MDC are now more formidable and Chamisa has been reaffirmed as leader. By contrast, Zanu PF is in tatters,” Mandaza said. “The MDC have already mentioned that they want to do non-violent protests. I think that will work. They should also be more assertive on the transitional authority and how it should work which is co-chaired by Chamisa and Mnangagwa for between two and three years paving way for fresh elections.”