DESPITE being handed his third defeat at the hands of President Robert Mugabe in last week’s election, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he will not step down from the helm of the party to pave way for a fresh pair of hands,” The Financial Gazette can report.
MDC-T insiders revealed this week that the former trade unionist was facing tough questions within his party over his leadership after he was routed by President Mugabe for the third time in elections that also saw his party losing control of the parliamentary majority gained in the 2008 polls.
In fact, insiders said the party faces an implosion following its disputed election defeat, amid indications of a push for a special congress to replace some top figures for sleeping on duty. The MDC-T’s next congress was due next year.
Others warned of an open rebellion against Tsvangirai for blocking those who won Parliamentary seats from going into Parliament.
In 2005, Tsvangirai triggered the MDC split after he imposed a decision on the party not to participate in Senatorial elections, resulting in the emergence
of the anti-Senate faction that he led and the pro-Senate faction that was led by the late Gibson Sibanda and Welshman Ncube, now the MDC leader.
A stunned MDC-T has refused to accept the election results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission citing irregularities in the run-up to the poll as evidence that “victory” was yet again stolen from it by ZANU-PF.
The MDC-T points to the unavailability of the voters’ roll, the high number of assisted voters and lack of political reform ahead of the elections among other things as factors that rendered the results of the July 31 poll a “huge farce” and “null and void”.
The party has since said it would challenge the poll results in court while at the same time taking up the issue with both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, which observed the country’s elections.
The latest defeat to ZANU-PF could split the MDC-T.
There are those who feel that Tsvangirai has played his part, and should step aside at the next congress if not earlier to allow a younger leader to take-over.
This school of thought believes that after failing to dislodge President Mugabe on three occasions, the MDC-T leader has run out of ideas, hence the need to pass the baton to someone who could bring in new ways of doing things.
Emboldening this view is the perception that the electorate could have ditched the MDC-T because of the gaffes committed by Tsvangirai during the lifespan of the inclusive government.
The MDC-T leader has been embroiled in sex scandals and has prevaricated on crucial issues, which portrayed him as indecisive.
“This defeat calls for an extraordinary congress. We need to redefine ourselves,” said an MDC-T insider.
“If in ZANU-PF people like Christopher Mushohwe can go back to Mutare to reconnect with the people, there is need for some people to go back and mix and mingle with the people.”
The source added that the party’s primary election system whereby sitting Members of Parliament went through a confirmation process might have also contributed to its defeat as unpopular candidates bought themselves in.
The party’s young Turks who have been with the MDC-T since its formation were sidelined on account that they did not have money, added the source.
But another school of thought argues that without Tsvangirai the MDC-T would lose grassroots support.
Tsvangirai himself this week said he would be going nowhere.
The defiant MDC-T leader, speaking to The Financial Gazette at the weekend refused to concede defeat to ZANU-PF again.
“We did not lose this election. It is in the imagination of ZANU-PF that they have won it and yet they know the truth that we have not lost the election,” he said.
“This is not a personal issue, this is a national issue. If the MDC lost this election then it is not Tsvangirai who has lost and actually l get my mandate from my party, from my followers — who are the only people who can say we are sick and tired of you so can you please go. That’s where the mandate lies. So far, l have the full backing of the national council; l have the full backing of the people of Zimbabwe, until such a time that they can express it then we can talk about that.”
After a political career spanning slightly more than a decade, the MDC-T leader could well have made his swansong appearance on Zimbabwe’s political stage, with President Mugabe certain to have the last laugh.
Since the MDC-T was formed in 1999, Tsvangirai has sparred off against President Mugabe in the 2002 and 2008 elections.
When the labour-backed party contested in the 2002 election, it was still a novice, with hardly any experience under its belt to deal with ZANU-PF’s years of accumulated political experience.
By then, President Mugabe and ZANU-PF had faced off against other opposition parties in the 1980s in the form of the late vice president Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and in the 1990s against Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement and Ndabaningi Sithole’s ZANU-Ndonga.
The MDC-T’s appeal at its inception to white commercial farmers, student unions and the working class, initially scared ZANU-PF which resorted to heavy-handed tactics to suppress the young opposition party.
Eventually, President Mugabe won that election in 2002 by slightly over 400 000 voters — but the general feeling within the political landscape was that for the first time he had been presented with a formidable challenge in the form of Tsvangirai, who in the ideal conditions, could have possibly unseat him.
The five years that followed the disputed 2002 election in which Zimbabwe’s economy shrunk and millions fled to neighbouring South Africa, Botswana and overseas in the United Kingdom and United States, worsened the collapse of the country’s economy.
A combination of runaway inflation and sanctions propelled support for Tsvangirai and the MDC-T while whipping up displeasure against President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.
Riding on the displeasure against ZANU-PF caused by the economic meltdown, the MDC-T’s change mantra resonated strongly with the general population and yielded a first round victory for Tsvangirai against President Mugabe in the March 2008 election.
The MDC-T was able to win a majority in Parliament — edging for the first time ZANU-PF which had enjoyed a majority since independence in 1980.
However, the MDC-T did not participate in the second round of voting in June 2008, after claiming that 200 of its supporters had been killed in poll-related violence instigated by ZANU-PF ahead of the Presidential election run-off.
Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the election contest consequently handed a poll victory to President Mugabe on a silver platter.
With a trail of victims of political violence, President Mugabe’s poll victory in June 2008 lacked legitimacy as Tsvangirai raised the red flag to regional leaders and the international community over how unarmed civilians had been bludgeoned into voting for President Mugabe.
The mediation efforts of the SADC brokered the signing of the Global Political Agreement in September 2008, which later gave birth in February 2009 to the government of national unity.
Tsvangirai was understood then to have agreed to enter into a power-sharing agreement with President Mugabe on the basis of “giving time-out” to ordinary Zimbabweans, who had borne the brunt of the economic meltdown.
Sections of hardliners in the MDC led by Tendai Biti, the party’s secretary-general and Roy Bennett, the treasurer-general were said to have been against joining a coalition government, which by extension gave legitimacy to President Mugabe’s rule and afforded him time to rebuild his party.
In retrospect, analysts said by joining the inclusive government Tsvangirai strengthened President Mugabe’s political hand.
Tanonoka Joseph Whande, a political analyst based in Botswana, said Tsvangirai had been kept busy by his position in the inclusive government to the point of abandoning his supporters.
“The MDC-T lost the election over a period of four years not on election day of July 31. Tsvangirai was just too wrapped up in enjoying trappings of power and forgot to keep in step and in touch with the people. He chose to ignore that he was Prime Minister not through a vote but through compromise after the last election had been stolen from him,” said Whande.
“The damage has been done and it has been done in a brutal way. In the absence of violence, Tsvangirai was lulled into a false sense of security and was not aware of all the signals and red flags waved at him”.
Whande added: “Sadly, the crux of the matter is that he has no choice but to step down and let someone with better ideas lead the party. Tsvangirai, honestly, is not thinking of hanging on to the party presidency till the next elections?….All things must come to an end and it is time for the MDC-T to move on under new management.”
Piers Pigou, director of the Southern African chapter of the International Crisis Group, a political think-tank, said the rug had been pulled from under Tsvangirai’s feet.
“The bottom line is that the MDC formations signed up for this. They have been outmanoeuvred again. One could ask what on earth made them think you could trust the process in the first place,” said Pigou.
Mthulisi Mathuthu, a journalist based in Britain, said despite his defeat, Tsvangirai would still be the proud holder of some record.
“In 2008, he became the first politician to hand President Mugabe his first electoral defeat forcing a run-off election — an achievement which eluded even giants like the late VP Joshua Nkomo. Prior to that President Mugabe was largely feared and effectively unchallengeable; and with reason,” said Mathuthu.
Political analyst, Gideon Chitanga, said a serious process of internal introspection and strategic recruitment was needed to avoid the MDC-T’s collapse, otherwise finger pointing and blame games would be disastrous for the organisation.
“The fate of the party will depend on how the leadership handles itself and engage with its supporters, sympathisers and opponents. The party is back to where it was in 2005,” said Chitanga.
“The SADC mediation and the focus on regional intervention sort of elitised the problem in Zimbabwe, taking off from the attention of the ordinary citizen who expected solutions from the sterile regional body.”
He said after the 2005 split and its loss to ZANU-PF during the same year, the MDC-T went into a deep crisis which it survived with strong backing from civil society especially the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union in terms of retaining a broad mass base.
“Civil society, just like the MDC-T, has not been static, in other words most if not all these social formations that emerged with the democratisation process are suffering a declining social base, the NCA included, their structures are dead, they no longer have the same national appeal just as the issues have changed,” added Chitanga.