The arrest of pro-senate opposition leader Arthur Mutambara together with more than 50 of his party supporters, a day before the crucial Budiriro by-election in Harare, in what most people believed was a publicity stunt, failed to sway the electorate.
His candidate, Gabriel Chaibva, a former legislator for Harare South, lost dismally the following day, polling only 504 votes. The Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction’s candidate Emmanuel Chisvuure thrashed the ruling ZANU-PF candidate Jeremiah Bvirindi winning 7 949 votes, 64 percent of the poll, against Bvirindi’s 3 961 votes, 32 percent of the poll.
Chaibva attracted only 4 percent of the votes.
The win was a tremendous boost for Tsvangirai who had 17 seats against Mutambara’s 24 seats when the party split.
Though the win did not increase the number of seats for Tsvangirai’s faction, it showed that he still commanded the votes in Harare and could garner more by challenging the break-away faction.
Under the constitution a seat can become vacant if a party writes to the Speaker of Parliament that someone who was elected on a party ticket has left the party. In this case Tsvangirai or Mutambara, for that matter, could challenge all the seats held by the other faction but neither faction has taken this route so far.
But the Mutambara faction has been on the receiving end. It has been clobbered, even in former MDC strongholds clearly indicating that people still support Tsvangirai.
It is not clear whether Tsvangirai would take any action, but by-elections, which would give his party more seats, would be a major boost ahead of the 2008 presidential elections.
This is a gamble worth taking because this is his last chance to aim for higher office.
Under the MDC constitution, a party president can only serve two terms. Tsvangirai is already serving his second term.