The two main contenders, the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are heading in different directions. But one thing is certain. Zimbabwe’s elections will be held in March.
The MDC says it won’t participate in a sham. ZANU-PF says it wants to celebrate its silver jubilee in April after defeating British Prime Minister “Tony Blair”, meaning the MDC.
ZANU-PF is now on full throttle. It is tying up all the loose ends. The Electoral Bill, which will facilitate electoral reforms demanded by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is now before Parliament. And so in the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, that will ensure that all organisations that want to deal with governance issues such as human rights, elections and voter education are locally funded. Practically, this means they will have to close shop because all of them depend on foreign funding.
What is baffling most observers is that ZANU-PF is moving full steam. The electoral reforms appear to be meant for the 2010 elections rather than next year’s because there is hardly time to implement them before the March elections.
While the Electoral Bill is still before Parliament, the government has already appointed a Delimitation Commission, which has started work. The Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede says the voter registration exercise is complete.
The Electoral Bill should be pushed through Parliament by the end of this month to enable government to dissolve parliament and allow three months of campaigning. The bill will set up an independent electoral commission which the opposition and regional leaders have been clamouring for.
While the private and international media is focusing on the party congress due at the beginning of December, ZANU-PF is gearing for the elections because they are more important than the party congress. Over the years, the party congress has set the tone for the next five years, but this year, things are likely to be different. Elections are more important because they will allow the party to change the constitution, if it wins a two-thirds majority, and thereafter go back to look at the crucial issue of succession.
Its favoured path seems to be to go back to the system at independence of a ceremonial president, with a prime minister as head of government, and a senate to accommodate the seasoned, older politicians who would provide the necessary brakes if the young legislators in the lower house move too fast.
While the party has several power blocks, everyone seems to have closed ranks at the moment to win the elections. Political observers say the so-called factions and groupings reported to be threatening to split the party, the so-called young Turks versus the old guard theories, are theories “driven more by outsiders and a media with an axe to grind”.
Theories being floated are that there is a group of young Turks which comprises Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, President Robert Mugabe’s chief propagandist whose grip on the media has propelled Mugabe’s popularity ratings locally and internationally, Joseph Made who spearheaded the land reform, and Patrick Chinamasa who has introduced legislation that has clamped down on Mugabe’s main opponents: the opposition, the media and now non-governmental organisations.
This group is reportedly advocating that Mugabe stay on so that the old guard can be accounted for by natural attrition and therefore give them a chance. But it appears to have no clear leader, apart from Moyo, who despite his media dominance is probably one of the most hated government ministers, particularly by urban and literate Zimbabweans.
The other two groups have been touted as major rivals for years. One comprises Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and allegedly includes people like former army commander Solomon Mujuru. Though it allegedly also includes John Nkomo, with moves to retire Joseph Msika, Nkomo is favourite to take over his place. He can hope for no higher position as the presidency is likely to be reserved for an original ZANU-PF cadre for some time to come.
The other group is headed by Mugabe’s favourite Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is proving to be a “scheming survivor” just like his mentor Robert Mugabe. Most people thought Mnangagwa would be mired in the financial scandals that have engulfed ZANU-PF companies and his protege Mutumwa Mawere, but he seems to have weathered the storm. Mnangagwa has former defence forces chief Vitalis Zvinavashe on his side.
These groupings could be scuttled by moves by the women’s league to have a woman vice-president. Joyce Mujuru is the favourite. Her rise could work well in Mnangagwa’s favour. The political equation in ZANU-PF is very simple. If the president is Zezuru, then one vice-president must represent Karanga interests and the other Ndebele interests. If Joyce Mujuru is made vice-president, it would be automatic that the president will have to be Karanga. With Eddison Zvobgo gone, Mnangagwa is the automatic choice.
But he is playing his cards to his chest. As one political observer pointed out, a lot of people, especially the West, have been blinded by their dislike for Mugabe and ZANU-PF that they do not realise that the party operates just like western political parties. There is a lot of power broking, not necessarily along tribal lines, but at the same time it does not ignore these tribal alliances.
Observers say ZANU-PF leaders stick together when it comes to the crunch. They put aside their political differences to push forward a cause. The case of Eddison Zvobgo is a typical example. He was touted as a key opponent of Mugabe, a front-runner for succession, the most likely candidate to defect to the MDC where he would have been welcomed, but he stuck to ZANU-PF until his death despite the humiliation and demotion from minister to ordinary Member of Parliament.
“You cannot talk about groups with some wanting Mugabe to hang on to give them a chance because the moment you say so, you are already implying that there are some who want him to go,” one observer said. “And you cannot identify those who want him to hang on without identifying those who want him to go.”
For ZANU-PF the debate is academic. Their focus is on the elections. And that is where the Movement for Democratic Change comes in. Its decision to boycott the elections could sink the party into political oblivion because people are already asking: “Yes, it is OK to boycott the elections because the playing field is not level, but what is next after the boycott? What happens to the party if it does not participate and therefore no longer has parliamentary representation?”
These are questions the MDC leadership has not yet answered. But the biggest problem for the MDC is that people do not support the boycott. There were already disagreements about the boycott between the party executive and sitting Members of Parliament, most of whom have already been endorsed by district executives to stand in next year’s elections.
A survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute shows that 56 percent of MDC supporters do not support the boycott even if the electoral reforms are not implemented. The supporters said the MDC needs to find alternative means of getting its message across because ZANU-PF will not voluntarily give up its hold.
The survey showed that while the MDC leadership seemed to be concentrating on taking over power from ZANU-PF its supporters viewed electoral reforms as a process rather than an event. “For most people continued participation in elections by the opposition acts as a bulwark against total dominance by ZANU-PF and guarantees that ZANU-PF is kept on its toes,” it said.
While the MDC is toying around with boycott theories, the survey had some startling revelations that could work against the MDC should it decide to participate in the elections. The survey revealed that 37 percent of the electorate was not registered as voters.
The majority of those not registered, 64 percent, were aged 18-24, considered to be the group where the MDC draws the majority of its support from. Most of those in groups considered to be sympathetic to ZANU-PF were registered, 81 percent of those 35-44 years, 88 percent of those 45-54 and 80 percent of those aged 55 and above.
The survey also revealed something that could work in ZANU-PF’s favour. Most people did not support voting over a single day. This allows for rigging. They also did not like the idea of transparent ballot boxes. One interviewee was quoted as saying: “If your ballot paper unfolds inside the box, everyone will see who you voted for.”
That told a lot in terms of fear among voters. This means that transparent boxes could work in favour of ZANU-PF as people would be afraid of being intimidated.
Counting of ballot papers at polling stations also works in ZANU-PF’s favour because it becomes easier for the party to identify communities that did not vote for it and thus punish them directly be it by denying them food or development.
Apart from all the problems associated with electoral reforms, the MDC has its internal problems to solve. While the acquittal of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai was hailed the world over and supporters were reportedly jubilant, it could also have created a leadership crisis as some of the party leaders were already preparing for an alternative leader because they were convinced Tsvangirai was going to jail.
Though publicly the party claimed it was fully behind Tsvangirai, insiders say, a replacement was already in place. Some of the party leaders were shocked by the acquittal, a thing that ZANU-PF is now using against them.
It is now harping that the rule of law exists contrary to claims by the MDC. It can rush through legislation that will favour it for the next elections and insist that it is acting within the law, which will be true, and will be difficult to challenge both at regional and international level.
The biggest division within the MDC, however, is between trade unionists and other players. The party executive is now dominated by trade unionists, most of whom were defeated in the 2000 elections but they want credit for the success of the party and want more say. Only a dozen legislators among the original 57 MDC parliamentarians were trade unionists.
Another key issue is whether Tsvangirai should contest next year’s elections or wait for the 2008 presidential elections. There is a strong feeling that Tsvangirai should get into parliament so that he becomes official leader of the opposition and uses that platform to promote the party across the world. Right now the leader is Gibson Sibanda, his deputy, and he is the one who gets all the official invitations from governments.