Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Renewed MDC Strife Bodes Ill for Elections

Deterioration in relations between opposition factions likely to hand ZANU-PF victory on a silver platter.
By Norman Chitapi
The divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has all but sealed its fate ahead of next year’s combined parliamentary and presidential elections, with the leaders of its two factions in an all-out attack on each other in the state media this week.

However, analysts are split on the likely impact of the announcement by the Arthur Mutambara-aligned camp that unity talks between the two factions had irretrievably collapsed after MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai recently refused to attend a joint press conference to announce a code of conduct which had set up a mechanism to reduced tensions between the rival groups.

The analysts predict that a divided MDC will hand the ruling ZANU-PF party victory on a silver platter in next year’s election. They all believe the opposition will perform far worse in the ballot than it has done since it was founded eight years ago.

There are also fears that the party could scuttle South African president Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts after he made it a precondition that he would only deal with a united MDC.

Mutambara accused Tsvangirai of sabotaging efforts to present a common front against ZANU-PF. He accused his counterpart of being “weak and indecisive” and lacking the ability to think strategically.

Mutambara also announced that his faction was pulling out of the “Save Zimbabwe Campaign”, a conglomeration of some 20 civic organisations, political parties and student and labour unions, which he said was being used to advance Tsvangirai’s personal interests.

While he has made it clear that he is not interested in reunification between the two factions after the split in 2005, Tsvangirai did not directly attack Mutambara when he spoke at a rally in the poor suburb of Kuwadzana on July 29.

“We need unity of all progressive forces in this country,” he said. “The enemy is not Tsvangirai. The enemy is President [Robert] Mugabe.”

Analysts said the attack on Tsvangirai by Mutambara was playing into ZANU-PF’s hands without in any way helping the cause of the forces fighting Mugabe’s oppressive regime.

“We know there is no love lost between the two opposition camps,” said a political observer in Harare, adding that he believed Mugabe was “ready for the picking” after the worsening economic situation triggered by the recent onslaught against business. However, pointed out the observer, “One cannot rule out ZANU-PF’s dirty tricks in this whole affair. Why is the state media suddenly interested in reporting what is happening in the MDC when all along it has refused to do so? After all, coverage of opposition parties by the state media is one of the key issues being raised at the stalled talks in South Africa.”

The observer said the fact that the two factions were attacking each other in public was a clear sign that they were going their separate ways and were therefore likely to split their vote, which would favour ZANU-PF.

“One of the key conditions of the talks between the two factions was to present a common front against ZANU-PF. This meant that they would field a single candidate in next year’s presidential election,” said the observer. “What is now happening is that the single-candidate principle they were talking about is dead and buried. There is no way any of them can turn around and support the other as the leader of a united MDC.”

They would also not likely field candidates against each other in the parliamentary constituencies, but would instead compete on a proportional representation basis.

A retired journalist in Harare said Zimbabweans would be the biggest losers in the war of egos between opposition leaders. He said it was evident to everyone else that a divided MDC could not win against ZANU-PF - no matter what the conditions on the ground. But this did not seem to matter to the leaders.

“I would be surprised if their combined seats surpass 25 per cent of the total vote in next year’s elections,” said the journalist.

At the weekend rally, Tsvangirai announced that his faction would launch its presidential and parliamentary campaign on September 9 at Zimbabwe Grounds in the poor suburb of Highfield, the same venue where many civic and opposition activists, including Tsvangirai, were arrested and severely beaten in police custody. The crackdown prompted an emergency Southern African Development Community, SADC, summit in Tanzania, which led to Mbeki being ask to mediate the crisis.

“Neither faction enjoys any significant support in rural areas and if they split the vote in urban areas where they have traditionally been strong, ZANU-PF will pick up those seats again. This is definitely bad news for Zimbabwe, whatever motives the opposition leaders might have,” said the journalist.

More significantly, it would be difficult for the opposition to extract any concessions from Mbeki at the mediation process, he added.

Mugabe has always been reluctant to talk to the MDC, especially meeting Tsvangirai face-to-face.

“Now that they have proved unwilling to stand together in defence of their own interest, it will be more difficult for ZANU-PF to take them seriously,” said an African diplomat based in Harare. “It will be even more difficult for Mbeki to argue with ZANU-PF that they are a serious party.”

The SADC in March this year mandated Mbeki to mediate in Zimbabwe’s eight-year political stalemate and economic recession, which has seen inflation spiral to over 4,500 per cent. Unemployment is estimated at over 80 per cent.

The country has been plagued by shortages of almost all basic commodities, a situation aggravated by a unilateral order by government at the end of June for products and service providers to reduce prices by 50 per cent. The move led to a buying spree by consumers, which has left most shops empty.

An MDC member who attended Tsvangirai’s rally noted that the MDC was setting itself up for failure. “Up to now not many people know whether or not the MDC will be participating in next year’s elections. Then you have this confusion about the format the party wants to adopt in combating ZANU-PF. Why should these things be happening at the last minute when the party should be mobilising supporters and urging them to register to vote?” he said.

“The long and short of it is that the MDC is digging its own grave. Once they lose next year’s election, whatever the electoral conditions, they are unlikely to recover again. People have given them enough chance and have been hoping that they would take advantage of the mediation effort by Mbeki to improve electoral laws, and even get some concessions on a new constitution. They have blown all that.”

He noted that government had removed the ban on political gatherings and that both factions of the MDC were allowed to hold rallies whenever they wanted to. Whether government was genuinely trying to accommodate opposition views was still unclear but it was up to the MDC to test the extent of this commitment, he said.

“They cannot do this when they cannot put their own house in order first,” said another analyst. “In all probability, ZANU-PF is just trying to cleanse itself - to be seen to be improving conditions in the country to win legitimacy in any future elections. It cannot be blamed for the MDC’s immaturity.”

Norman Chitapi is the pseudonym for an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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