Unlikely to be so friendly come election time: Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru.
Unlikely to be so friendly come election time: Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru.

In the absence of a united opposition, President Robert Mugabe — who will be 94 years old when the 2018 polls take place in Zimbabwe — is tipped to retain control of the country for another five-year term.

Mugabe has been in power since independence in April 1980 and his probable win would be aided in part by the tight control he still wields over the state apparatus and the refusal by his ruling Zanu-PF to implement election reforms — as stipulated by a new constitution — which, if followed, would level the political playing field.

Zanu-PF is deeply divided over the issue of Mugabe’s successor, but this has not stopped it from naming him as the sole candidate for the polls at its party conference in December.

The deep divisions among the opposition’s ranks over whether to enter into a coalition arrangement may alter what happens next.

“I don’t see a coalition taking place, as the main contenders for the presidency both see themselves as viable candidates,” says Ibbo Mandaza, director and founder of the Sapes Trust, a Harare-based think tank. “I don’t see Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru coming together.”

Tsvangirai leads the largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The next polls will be his fourth attempt since 2002 to wrest power from Mugabe.

His previous election defeats at the hands of Mugabe and in particular his 2013 election loss led to calls for him to pass the baton to someone else. But Tsvangirai has resisted such calls.

“You can’t change the [leader] right in the middle of a struggle,” he often tells critics.

MDC insiders say that though the party projects an image of approval for a coalition arrangement, the issue has split the MDC right down the middle.

Those opposed are sceptical of joining hands with Mujuru, who served under Mugabe for 10 years as his deputy and was a cabinet minister since 1980. Some see her as a person who would taint the MDC. Mujuru now heads the Zimbabwe People First party.

Deliberations by the MDC’s top brass last year set out stringent conditions for a possible coalition. Ex-party members who have broken away from Tsvangirai are likely to be left out in the cold. This especially includes Tendai Biti, the former MDC secretary-general and one-time Tsvangirai right-hand man, who left the MDC in 2014. Biti now leads the People’s Democratic Party.

The MDC has insisted that the coalition candidate must be someone who is able to win an election against Mugabe. The issue will also be put to the MDC’s grassroots supporters. Tsvangirai is set to canvass the opinion of his supporters this week.

The MDC says Tsvangirai will embark on a “highly interactive tour” of the country’s 10 provinces. He will meet “ordinary people, party structures, as well as opinion leaders in the country’s provinces to hear them out on the crisis facing the country, as well as other national issues — alliance building being key among them,” it says.

Meanwhile, political observers say that with Zimbabwe quickly slipping into election mode, social movements, which gained traction last year, could play second fiddle to political parties themselves. Social movements such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka riled authorities last year as they called for mass protests and for Mugabe to step down.

Political commentator Vivid Gwede says social activist leaders will remain relevant in the short term and are a vital cog in highlighting the issues of ordinary people, while the political players haggle over positions.

“I see them [social activists] as being either roped into or sidelined by the coming electoral tide. They have to fight to keep their heads above water,” Gwede says.

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