Zim opposition weakens ahead of next year’s elections

Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties this week got an assessment they would rather it were quickly forgotten. The same evaluation gave the governing Zanu PF party an unexpectedly positive rating which can only get its rivals, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, very furious. The sum total of the assessment is that opposition parties in Zimbabwe will likely lose the next general elections scheduled for next year because they have nothing in common and their leaders are obsessed with power.

These were the views of University of Zimbabwe senior political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure. They were published in the latest economic review of a local think tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.

Masunungure’s comments will come as a boon to Zanu PF and its leader President Robert Mugabe who have over the years been vilified by the opposition and civic society organisations for allegedly rigging their way into power. He puts the blame back in their court.

Since losing the previous elections in 2013, the MDC-T and its leader Tsvangirai have been engaged in efforts to unite opposition forces against Zanu PF and his party ahead of the 2018 elections. Former Vice President Dr Joice Mujuru and her Zimbabwe People First movement have also been approached. But there appears to be little going nowhere. The leaders are fighting over positions and who should lead the desired “grand coalition”. “The prospects for a pre-electoral coalition of opposition parties are no brighter now than they were a year ago,” said Masunungure, a major critic of President Mugabe and his party. “The opposition is plagued by deep-seated suspicions, distrust and petty jealousies and there is no unifying common history, beliefs and values or ideology except a quest for power,” he said.

On the other hand, Masunungure noted that although the 53-year old Zanu PF currently faced internal convulsions of its own, it was a party which had “seen it all” and was therefore able to “recreate and rejuvenate itself, which it has done very well on several occasions in its life time”. In a damning verdict, Masunungure noted that because of a fractured opposition, “for the foreseeable future, Zimbabwe’s destiny is in Zanu PF hands”, adding, “Indeed, although the party (Zanu PF) is at its weakest in many years, the reality, however, is that its rivals are even weaker.”

It is important to emphasise that the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute is led by a critic of the governing Zanu PF party and its leader President Mugabe. The same is true of Masunungure. That is why their views should be taken seriously. They cannot be cynically dismissed as the usual Zanu PF propaganda. Instead, and this is the real point, their views give grist to what Zanu PF has always said about the pathetic state of the opposition in the country.

They don’t have an ideology around which to unify the people. Their rallying cry has always been that Mugabe must go. They have never been clear what it is they want to bring after or should Zanu PF lose power. The result is that they have created suspicion even among potential voters whether they want to be an alternative or a substitute for Zanu PF.

While Zanu PF is ravaged by internal disputes over who should succeed President Mugabe, it has delivered to its voters and supporters in concrete terms. It has a legacy of the land reform and black economic empowerment policies, which the opposition routinely attacks even when failures are due largely to acts of nature, like last year’s El Nino-induced drought which affected the entire Sadc region and beyond.

The opposition parties have not articulated policies of their own to challenge those of Zanu PF. Instead their negative rhetoric suggests they might attempt to reverse the land reform programme, something that Zanu PF has played up to good effect, especially to its majority beneficiaries in rural areas.

When all is said and done, Masunungure’s assessment should come as both a blow and a blessing to the opposition. It is a blow because it’s coming from someone they should count among its sympathisers; it is a blessing because it points out starkly what needs to be cured while there is still more than a year before the next elections. They can put their house in order or kiss goodbye any pretensions that they can remove Zanu PF from power. And that failure will have nothing to do with its claimed ability to rig its way into power.

February 2017
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