Do or Die… 2013 poll could be last throw of dice for Mugabe and Tsvangirai

Harare –Thirteen years of bruising elections come down to this: the loser will likely face certain political death.

President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will mid-this year lead their parties in a general election that is a defining moment for the two men.

For President Mugabe, at 89 years old, many analysts believe this will be the last time he stands for re-election, having won every poll he has stood in since 1980. That alone makes him the most formidable of foes.

On the other hand, Tsvangirai has not won an elective seat – including as an MP – since he entered politics in 1999, and analysts believe should he fail again this time, his party will reject his candidature in future and look for an alternative.

Tsvangirai himself has admitted as much, saying last year: “We only have one last chance to prove that this party is ready to govern. If we miss, some will go to herd cattle.”

He also told his party supporters in December 2012 that if he failed to secure the Presidency at third time of asking he would resign, but he immediately retracted that statement (he called it a “joke”) after the papers had published it.

On March 16, Zimbabweans voted in a referendum for a new constitution, which they overwhelmingly adopted. This opens the way for a general election that President Mugabe is expected to call around June/July 2013.

For that plebiscite, the major political parties were united in supporting the adoption of the proposed constitution. The result was 90 percent public support for the constitution, under which the 2013 general election will now be held.

But there will be no such camaraderie now.

Analysts polled by The Southern Times are of the opinion that the general election will once again fail to deliver a commanding victory for either President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC-T.

Their estimation is that the two Houses of Parliament will be more or less finely balanced as they were in 2008.

But it is on the matter of who will win the Presidential election that much of the focus will lie.

Zimbabwe’s electoral laws demand that for a person to be declared President, he/she must secure over 50 percent of the vote. Should no one manage to do that, then a second round of polling will be held, pitting the top two contestants from the first ballot.

In 2008, this is what happened and President Mugabe swept to victory in the run-off. And analysts believe a 2013 run-off is in the making.

Three opinion polls by organisations have in the past year showed that support for President Mugabe is growing and that of his foes is on the wane.

Afrobarometer, US-based conservative NGO Freedom House and the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare have both said President Mugabe’s star is rising.

MDC-T has rejected the accuracy of the surveys, while ZANU-PF has said they will not pay heed to the opinion polls as they could be designed to lull the party into a sense of complacency.

From an analytical perspective, those polls do not mean much as in both cases, a huge proportion of respondents refused to state who they would vote for.

Midlands State University’s Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri says, “In my view, the party that will manage to mobilise young and new voters will have an edge over the others…This means the parties must have policies that appeal to new voters.”

 

 

Infighting and Succession

 

 

In ZANU-PF’s case, much will hinge on how the party deals with the factionalism that crippled it back in 2008.

Top party officials say the lessons of 2008 have been learnt and are being dealt with to ensure no such internal divisions put ZANU-PF so close to electoral defeat again.

ZANU-PF has resolved, among other things, “to direct all structures of the party to earnestly and immediately prepare for a resounding victory in the forthcoming elections”.

They are working under the slogan “put the ball into the net”, which is a response to the 2008 divisive plot by some party members to “put the ball in the woods” as a deliberate, but ultimately futile, attempt to sabotage President Mugabe’s re-election bid.

This infighting also saw imposition of Parliamentary and local government candidates, and the party paid a huge price as the electorate rejected politicians they did not want.

The focus will also be on securing the youth vote. Estimates indicate as many as one million first time Zimbabweans have attained the voting age of 18 since 2008, and these will prove decisive.

Many of these new voters have grown up in a time when Zimbabwe has been under a major political and economic onslaught. ZANU-PF will be hoping that its steadfastness on the issue of sovereignty and self-reliance will resonate with these young people.

Ashton Murwira, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, says: “The economic empowerment programme, which started broadly with the land reforms of 2000, remains central to ZANU-PF’s electoral strategy.

“The policies are likely to make sense to young people who find the job market has no space and who realise that there is a brighter future for them in entrepreneurship. What we have to see, though, is how widely and deeply economic empowerment opportunities spread to young people or if the programme will be hijacked by politically connected individuals.

“Empowerment is a policy that is gaining currency around the Third World, and ZANU-PF will be hoping that young voters across the country are as enthusiastic about it as older voters were about land reforms over the past decade.”

Murwira adds that the strength of ZANU-PF’s policies is that they have to do with the wellbeing of the entire nation, not just certain regions or ethnic groups.

In essence, says Murwira, a loss for ZANU-PF at the elections could very well be a death blow to the aspirations of economic empowerment and greater national self-reliance and self-assertiveness.

Dr Mhiripiri’s assessment is that ZANU-PF has a slight advantage because its policies tend to generate great public debate.

“ZANU-PF has the land reform and the indigenisation programmes and these have essentially been topical in the past 10 years,” he says.

Another issue for ZANU-PF is the age of its leader. The MDC-T and other parties have been hammering at the fact that President Mugabe is 89 years old.

But supporters of President Mugabe are not too worried about that, some of them confidently stating that there is a succession plan in place that will be activated once the party boss secures victory for his formation at the elections.

A senior party official known to be close to the President also told this paper that “there is a plan in place”.

“President Mugabe wants to secure his legacy. He has delivered on the land and now he wants to deliver on indigenising the economy. His victory in the poll will allow him to hand-over the mantle to another cadre knowing full-well that the promises of the liberation struggle – land and economic justice – have been delivered.”

What is not known, though, is who the President feels is best-suited to bring his crusade to its logical conclusion.

A respected columnist for The Herald newspaper in Harare, Nathaniel Manheru, has said “to do that the party must be united, focused. Not this nonsense … (of) the so-called succession-related divisions. After all, is it not a fact that without electoral success there can’t be any succession?”

Having witnessed the example of UNIP in Zambia after 1991, ZANU-PF should be well aware that losing the grip on power may well be a death knell that consigns them to the political periphery for years.

Tsvangirai’s Stern Test

On the other hand, an electoral loss will hurt Tsvangirai more than it hurts the party he has failed to lead to the Presidency after 14 years at the helm.

In recent years, there have been major attempts to unseat him. Through a combination of ruling by fiat, changing the party constitution and positioning himself as the only person who can challenge President Mugabe, Tsvangirai has held on.

But failure this time could see the political obituaries being penned for a man who once came so close but ultimately could not make it past the finish line.

One writer in New African magazine has said, “The clock is ticking even faster for Tsvangirai and his party. That the party has failed to juice up ahead of elections by launching its blueprint called Jobs, Upliftment, Investment and Environment, makes a body like Tsvangirai’s frantic.

“In the absence of a coherent policy of its own, the MDC-T has for years had to rely on blaming Zanu-PF for the troubles in Zimbabwe.

“Sometimes MDC-T opposed ZANU-PF for its own sake. Yet the fact remained that the latter always stood on a policy stead, providing the games in town such as the land reform and now indigenisation.”

The lack of policy coherence is MDC-T’s biggest undoing. Where ZANU-PF talks about empowerment, MDC-T has claimed it can create some one million jobs rather quickly if it is given power.

That in itself is not bad, but what worries the electorate is the party’s position towards empowerment. MDC-T has largely protected the interests of foreign firms that will be most affected by the empowerment and indigenisation agenda, in much the same way that it protected white farmer interests during the land reform programme. (There were threats by at least one senior party official on BBC that they would reverse land reforms once in power.)

Dr Mhiripiri says: “While the MDC-T has its blueprint it has not been adequately publicised and in that respect ZANU-PF has an edge because we have seen how young people are enthusiastically following up to participate in those (empowerment) programmes. However, ultimately I do not see any one party having an outright majority in Parliament.”

Further, the party’s performance in the coalition government from 2009 to the present has not inspired confidence, with particular ire being raised by the corruption rampant in MDC-T-run local authorities. And Tsvangirai’s public handling of his intimate relationships with various women has not won him too many admirers either. In addition, the power and access granted to personal friends and Western diplomats has riled senior officials, who say the party leader should listen more to his advisors than to individuals who hold no official brief. Waiting in the wings is a group of young and ambitious politicians who are ready to take over from Tsvangirai.

Analysts say this group is prepared to do like ZANU-PF in 2008 and “kick the ball in the woods”; in short this means they are prepared to sabotage Tsvangirai at the elections if it means he will exit the scene and give them the chance to assume leadership.

A member of the party organising committee who spoke toThe Southern Times last week said, “There are some influential people who believe Tsvangirai is incapable of beating (President) Mugabe. They are safe as long as they win seats in Parliament, but what will become of Tsvangirai if he loses? They will respectfully tell him he has failed and ask him to step aside.”

The official says there have been some attempts to secure an electoral pact with smaller parties in the hope that this will tilt the balance in Tsvangirai’s favour.

“The problem we face is the egoism in Zimbabwe’s political set-up. Very few (leaders of other parties) want to defer to us as the biggest challenge to ZANU-PF and Mugabe. But we will keep trying. There is strength in numbers.”

What the official is referring to is the 2008 scenario when a third formation necessitated a run-off Presidential race.

In that election, former ZANU-PF Politburo member, the ex-Finance Minister Dr Simba Makoni joined hands with a formation of the MDC led by Professors Arthur Mutambara and Welshman Ncube and took eight percent of the vote. Dr Mhiripiri explains: “The last time there was the Makoni factor in splitting the vote but I do not see that happening this time around. The parties will go for an outright majority.

“The result will be a defining moment for whoever loses. Even PM Tsvangirai himself has admitted that a loss in this year’s election will spell doom, for him and his party.”

A split vote is not something any of the leading candidates want, and both ZANU-PF and MDC-T will be keen to avoid a repeat of 2008.

·   Additional reporting by Farirai Machivenyika in Harare

 

 

 

 

 

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