'Coalition hits biggest snag over MDC demands'

HARARE - Zimbabwe's  hopes that the 2018 presidential election could be a two-horse race amid opposition talks to rally behind one candidate against President Robert Mugabe could be scuttled by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s tough coalition terms that analysts said yesterday were not fully welcoming of partners.

Opposition politicians are haggling whether to ink a deal to endorse one presidential flag-bearer to face off with Mugabe in the forthcoming harmonised elections.

The former prime minister in the inclusive government, the only politician in the history of the post-independence state to defeat the iron-fisted Zanu PF ruler, has said opposition parties needed to field a candidate with a real chance of winning the crunch poll.

Addressing the media after a meeting with the MDC’s national executive and national council in Harare last week, Tsvangirai said the party — based on past performance and other factors, and which is the strongest electorally in a given constituency — must field the candidate for the coalition.

Tendai Biti’s opposition PDP retorted that Tsvangirai’s terms were not inclusive.

“It is wrong to say, party X you are so small, I cannot listen to you,” PDP deputy president Kucaca Phulu told a news conference in Bulawayo last week, further railing against the MDC leader’s demands as “an axis of exclusion”.

“If someone were to ask me what I think about machinations to form a coalition and exclude the PDP, I will say — surprising...We are a party that is organised, with reasonably formed structures. The charge that we are new and untested is false because our politicians are tested.”

No matter how angry the other coalition parties are after their biggest ever row over Tsvangirai’s demands, neither can yet afford to sink the coalition in the worst economic crisis since independence.

Commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said no one should expect Tsvangirai to hide his ego behind a veil of humility — but it is clear he wants support from his colleagues.

“I do not think MDC is overplaying its importance — they are a big party, but not big enough to defeat Zanu PF on their own. What now is left is to approach the coalition with humility rather than ego,” Ngwenya said.

Analyst Maxwell Saungweme warned that some opposition parties could have been planted by the incumbent Mugabe regime into the coalition, and the alliance must be wary of being out-foxed by Zanu PF if they do not guard against infiltration.

“A good number of the so-called opposition parties are Zanu PF decoys and stronger opposition parties are heavily infiltrated by Zanu PF and CIO elements, hence some confusion within the opposition,” he said.

Speaking at his annual party conference, Mugabe laughed off the opposition unity talks, saying he was still the man to beat. He declared victory in the forthcoming elections propelled by what he called “ideologically bankrupt” opponents “in sixes and sevens”, facing “splits”.

The divided Zanu PF is seeking to extend its 36-year rule in the do-or-die general election, but opposition political parties, which are hoping to force Zanu PF out, remain deeply fragmented.

As opposition politicians intensified talks for a single candidate, analysts said the opposition leaders seem to know the importance of unity, but have nevertheless prevaricated and disappointed.

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told the Daily News: “(Tsvangirai’s) statement is welcome in the sense that the MDC sees the need, indeed the inevitability, of an opposition coalition.

“However, the statement is not fully welcoming of partners in opposition as it seeks to impose terms and to assert leadership...

“There are as yet no specific policies, just the broad brush stroke policies-in-principle which have long been in the field.”

Chan said the coalition would gain credibility if it proposed highly specific policies.

“It is unlikely the coalition can at this stage do that,” he said.

Academic, politician and TV personality Billet Magara said leaders of certain political parties were circling around MDC after discovering that the leader is gravely ill. Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s chief rival for the last 17 years, has been diagnosed with cancer of the colon and is undergoing treatment in neighbouring South Africa.

“The prospects for taking over in the event of Morgan’s death outweigh the pseudo-passionate calls for a united front.

“So to survive this impending swallow by circling vultures, the MDC must make unrealistic demands to proposals for a coalition. This will discourage would-be potential swallowers and thus save the situation,” Magara said.

Former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Tsvangirai, Alex Magaisa, said petty squabbles, exchange of personal insults and bitterness from previous relationships have stood in the way.

“As ever, the big challenge is who among the opposition leaders will lead the coalition,” he said.

“The two main characters are Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru. The one positive is that Tsvangirai and Mujuru seem to respect each other and have, so far, been civil to one another. They have hardly traded insults.”

Senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou said Tsvangirai presented an important and constructive statement of intent, providing some clarity on the importance of adopting strategies and tactics that play to respective strengths of a multifarious opposition, and by extension a helpful basis for further discussions on the way forward between opposition groupings.

“There does not appear to be any substantive disconnect between what is stated here, and the process and content of the exploratory discussions around forging a collective approach that took place recently in South Africa,” he said, referring to the “pact” between opposition EFF and DA.

“There is an opportunity to move beyond some of the apparent differences that were articulated around that process, as well as an important emphasis on electoral conditions that can build on the Nera (National Electoral Reform Agenda) agenda and processes that have unfolded over the last 12 months.”

There have been meetings between the politicians crafting the alliance, some of them rocky, with no deadline so far to come up with a line-up.

So far, the politicians have agreed to put on hold demands for specific positions in the proposed political outfit to avoid differences that could frustrate progress.

Academic McDonald Lewanika said the demands and conditions placed on the table by Tsvangirai were a good opening statement.

“The real test of these demands and conditions will be on which tradeoffs the MDC is willing to make as well as the objective criteria for establishing the different conditions and evidencing the different characteristics they have placed on the table — this is where the coalition will live and die,” Lewanika said.

He said so far, the only condition explicitly stated as non-negotiable is that talks need to be driven by Zimbabweans — the assumption is that everything else is open to negotiation.

“... the issues around party strength will face inevitable questions around how one determines party strength,” he said. “Post-2008, one could argue for party strengths as indicated by seats in Parliament but at the moment with Zanu PF-dominated Parliament with limited opposition, and a poor showing by the opposition in the last presidential election - this measure becomes at best unreliable and at worst contentious.”

He said while Tsvangirai’s stated vision is “great”, but if parties are to work together, there should be room created for the development of a “shared vision and mission.”

UK-based Zimbabwean scholar George Shire said the MDC seemed unable to think a comprehensive and alternative world to the one offered by Zanu PF with all its faults.

“(Tsvangirai’s) ‘demands’, important as they might be, do not translate into a hegemonic politics,” Shire said.

Comments (7)

Tsvangirai is only saying nothing ,but the truth.Can we really say because they are all opposition parties so a people like Mangoma,Biti,Ncube can lead the coalition for a mere reason that they are part of the coalition.If common sense should prevail it is obvious that Tsvangirai should lead .All those that are resisting a coalition led by Chimdara Tsvangie are infiltrators who are sponsored by the mafioso zanu party to bring down the opposition.Most of them do not command any reasonable following as far as supporters are concerned.Some of them actually represent the leadership and the supporters.Any level headed person will vouch for Tsvangirai.

Janana wa Bikaz - 19 December 2016

Sometimes we should not assume we are the inventors of this animal called democratic activism. There are other movements worldwide who have formed coalitions and achieved their aims of using it as a vehicle for democracy. They overcame and won elections. This is the time to find out what they did, how they accommodated the warring factions/parties and came together without the need for egos or dismissing others as insignificant. MDC cannot win it alone. THat is the most important message that MT needs to keep in mind throughout this saga.

guillo - 19 December 2016

The easiest way is for the Nera grouping to organize a mini referendum to elect the coalition leader. Then we can best see who is currently popular rather than basing on past glories and personalities.

meaky - 19 December 2016

Meaky and then ZANU PF will take control of the voting in the mini-referendum and put in place some peuso-opposition leader. The opposition party with the highest representation in par;liament ought to supply the Coalition President. The only areas Mujuru will benefit are those rural areas where she is popular. The only COALITION worth talking about is Tsvangirai -Mujuru. Those two parties must not contest in same constituency. Vana PDP handiti vakatodzingwa mu Pasrliament vakaramba ku contester as PDP here?

Jendekufa - 19 December 2016

Tsvangirai is right but primaries must be held in every ward umongst opposition parties to see who is best to represent in each ward and constituency. Whosoever loses must be willing to support the winning candidate. Mugabe is going 2018. Pasi ne harahwa.

Dambu - 20 December 2016

Give Joice the Mashonaland rural areas and Morgan towns. Masvingo. manicaland and Mat North. Welshaman- Mat South. The parties should help campaign for each other with all diligence and fury. A unity inclusive gvt should be formed after the soon coming independence.

ganja - 20 December 2016

I think there are already signs that this so called coalition might flop &even if it might somehow forge ahead might still not bring the results-judging fr the views& proposals being peddled up.While itz true that the common view of the majority is important in a democracy,but itz my hope that results only come forth only fr merit,gd judgement,virtue& principles.Results don't come fr fatigue,emotionalism &prejudice.I can well see that a number,want to elect Tsvangirai to lead the coalition-which can not b.That man is a complete failure-not happy with his party stewardship since 1999.He must step aside allow others to take over.We risk having everything under him falling apart-there are signs the so called coalition will sn b in pieces.Even if he becomes president our country will b in pieces,bec of his egotism &lack of vision-Manicaland will take its own way&so the rest-so frightening.To deliver is first to implement majority decisions &try to convince all,not yr own & the minority

Addmore Gudo - 20 December 2016

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