HARARE – A mediator may be called in to narrow the differences among the country’s opposition political parties that are quibbling over who should shepherd the mooted grand coalition to confront Zanu PF’s President Robert Mugabe at next year’s crucial polls, the Daily News can report.
This comes amid a strong push for a neutral person to lead the alliance as it also emerged over the weekend that Mugabe, who has been at the helm of his party since 1975, and has led Zimbabwe for an uninterrupted 37 years, may call for elections in the first quarter of next year to catch his rivals flat-footed.
Zimbabwe’s opposition parties, numbering up to 40, are in disarray over the formation of a grand coalition to tackle Mugabe at the polls.
Two parallel initiatives are being considered to depopulate the contest for positions, but none of them has made any headway.
Former Prime Minister and MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai has, in the past few months, signed memorandums of understanding with key opposition leaders, among them former vice president Joice Mujuru and Welshman Ncube, but very little progress has been made to take these forward.
Mujuru has lately been pursuing another arrangement under the auspices of the Coalition of Democrats (Code), which has so far brought together six opposition parties seeking to find each other ahead of the polls.
With Mugabe now in an election mode, mobilising the youth vote across the width and breadth of the country to rally behind his candidature in the wake of his fallout with the former liberation war fighters last year, there is panic among opposition parties that are sensing their waterloo at the polls if they do not put their act together.
Over the weekend, Mujuru hinted in an interview with the Daily News on Sunday that they may rope in a mediator to break the impasse.
“We are grouping in a good way, getting to understand each other. And where we are failing to understand each other, we are trying to minimise the differences. If we had not ironed out our pre-independence differences, we would not have had the independence that we are enjoying today,” said Mujuru.
“Three months were spent at Lancaster, negotiating our independence and we are seeking to do the same with our negotiations for a grand coalition. We may get to a stage where we may bring in a mediator to help us break the deadlock if we fail to iron out some of the things because we want the coalition as soon as possible.”
Mujuru appeared to suggest that there was no trust among the opposition political parties, especially among the various MDC formations.
Since its formation 1999, the MDC has split more than twice.
Ncube and his group were the first to break away from Tsvangirai in 2005, followed by Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma in 2014.
They all cited irreconcilable differences with Tsvangirai, a former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
“We have done so much in building the coalition but everything goes with trust; don’t forget that a lot of these opposition parties are mutations of the MDC so trust is a major issue, and to try and get them back is not going to be easy even though our objectives are the same,” said Mujuru.
The Daily News can reveal that there is a strong push for a dark horse to lead the grand coalition seen as the only option the opposition have to unseat Mugabe, who enjoys the power of incumbency.
Renowned civil society leader and activist, Brian Kagoro, seemed to confirm these manoeuvres when he urged the opposition political parties to choose a neutral leader, if they cannot settle for one among themselves.
Several people have been saying Tsvangirai is suitably qualified to lead the coalition because of the number of his followers, while Mujuru argued that she should lead the coalition because of her experience in government and her war credentials.
Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader, Simba Makoni, also prefers Tsvangirai and so does former Cabinet minister Didymus Mutasa, who has previously praised the former trade unionist, saying he had persevered against all odds in his push for a more democratic Zimbabwe.
Biti has also previously appealed to Tsvangirai to move decisively on the alliance.
But Kagoro differed, saying the issue of leadership must not be a stalling factor in the formation of a coalition.
“But it is also useful for me to caution those who sacrificed yesterday . . . that to detain the future in the past is not an exercise of clarity but an exercise of slavery because your past was necessary to a future with or without you,” Kagoro told guests at a Sapes Trust discussion forum.
“And this is why the struggle should not be whether its Morgan Tsvangirai, Joice Mujuru, Makoni, or Biti or (Dumiso) Dabengwa, who leads the coalition. If they can’t agree amongst themselves on who should lead, let them find a neutral person to lead because, I know they are saying to Zimbabweans we are not narcissistic, self-interested leaders, we are interested in the journey of transformation and not necessarily just the replacement of Robert with a younger version of an autocrat.
“So if this is the agenda, why is the question of who is the leader necessarily important, if the ideas that lead remain of those who are on the podium (Makoni, Mujuru, Biti and Dabengwa) . . .,” Kagoro said.
The electoral field has been congested even more with former Industry and International Trade minister Nkosana Moyo now in the running as well for the top job.
Moyo announced he would be running for president on Thursday last week, and seems not keen on combining forces with the other opposition parties.
Political analysts are, however, divided over the selection of a neutral candidate.
Shakespeare Hamauswa, a political analyst, said while it is an ideal suggestion, its proponents are detached from the sticking issues surrounding the negotiations.
He said the parties should agree on pre and post-election pacts, model or framework of sharing parliamentary seats and all other elected positions, adding that the coalition was being frustrated by the fact that Mujuru’s National People’s Party and the people negotiating the pact are bitter about Tsvangirai and they are not ready to render their loyalty to him.
“A neutral person will be ideal but I don’t think we can find such a person. MDC can do it alone basing on how it has performed since its inception, because it only suffered a mysterious defeat once that is in 2013. What is likely to happen is that Mujuru might take up the leadership of Code then Morgan will coalesce with some parties within and outside Code,” said Hamauswa.
Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Eldred Masunungure said the suggestion will not make sense in the Zimbabwean context.
“It doesn’t make sense, it does not work that way, Zimbabwean politics is party politics. The parties have to negotiate on who is supposed to lead, and if it is about numbers it would benefit Morgan, who is seen as the face of the opposition. But some say there is need for someone with liberation war credentials which would benefit Joice Mujuru. So, I don’t see the idea of a neutral candidate as feasible,” Masunungure said.
He said the electorate tends to support the candidacy of their own party leader, adding that the idea of a neutral leader is theoretically good but practically flawed.