Proponents of leadership renewal within the Movement for Democratic Change who have since been expelled from the party may have been right after all. Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has no intention of stepping down in October.
Tsvangirai was forced to call an early congress because of pressure on him to step down. He only announced the date after rebels from his party suspended him, but he in turn expelled them from the party and announced that the party is holding an extraordinary congress in October.
Though he has repeatedly said that he has no intention of hanging on to power, Tsvangirai told people at a rally in Epworth yesterday that he will relinquish his position if he is voted out of power.
At face value this seems democratic. He will step down if defeated. But Tsvangirai should have stepped down when he was Prime Minister because the party constitution limited the term of office of the party leader to two terms.
He was allowed to remain at the helm of the party in the hope that he would win the next elections and thus step down when his extended term expired in 2016. But that did not happen.
Tsvangirai’s participation at this year’s congress can only be justified if this is merely to emphasize that he is still popular enough to lead the party until the ordinary congress in 2016 and he does not contest then.
Tsvangirai’s continued stay is usually justified because he has only been at the helm of the party for 15 years while his main adversary Robert Mugabe has been leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front for37 years.
But Mugabe has not breached or changed the party constitution to remain at the helm. Tsvangirai has. The MDC came up with a term-limit, now also enshrined in the national constitution, to enable leadership renewal no matter how popular the leader is.
If Tsvangirai is allowed to contest elections at the next MDC congress he will beat any opponent hands down. He is very popular, but as Brian Raftopoulos pointed out in his report after last year’s elections Tsvangirai has been losing support from the voters with every election.
In 2002, Tsvangirai polled 1 258 401 votes in his first presidential bid. This declined to 1 195 562 votes in 2008 although he beat Mugabe. It was down to 1 172 349 last year.