Jostling for positions in the MDC ahead of the May 22 congress has reached a critical juncture. Vital battlegrounds such as Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo have been turned into ‘war zones’ of intense political contestation for positions.
Nominations for the do-or-die congress are in later this month, taking the country’s largest opposition party into a crucial phase which means different things to various constituencies making up the party.
For the supporters of MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, the upcoming elective congress is more of a referendum on the charismatic 41-year-old politician who has had a tumultuous 13 months in office.
Chamisa seized the leadership of the party after the heart-breaking loss of founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai who lost his valiant fight against colon cancer last year in February.
Ever since, Chamisa has struggled to shrug off accusations that he used his then assumed closeness to Tsvangirai’s widow, Elizabeth, to torpedo the ambitions of the likes of Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe who were also eyeing the post.
A titanic leadership battle subsequently ensued in the party, which eventually led to Khupe forming a breakaway faction which went on to perform dismally in last year’s elections.
The general feeling among MDC supporters is that while Chamisa ultimately prevailed over his party competitors, the congress is critical as it will settle once and for all the legitimacy question dogging him.
While for many, Chamisa is seen as the frontrunner to retain his MDC party presidency, some argue that the contest could go in any direction.
The MDC leader is likely to be challenged by the party’s secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora or Mudzuri (one of the party’s vice presidents) or both.
Amid indications that all the candidates vying for the top office have equal chances of success, analysts this week said success at the MDC congress will depend on who can mobilise the most delegates.
“This will depend on the respective candidates support and their capacity to mobilise within the reconstituted branches of the party,” said Piers Pigou, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group. Pigou said Chamisa is the favourite on account of his profile and multiple platforms he has been able to benefit from.
While acknowledging Chamisa’s advantages, another analyst said Mwonzora could also reap rewards from his long association with the MDC as its secretary-general.
South African-based political analyst Ricky Mukonza said by its very nature politics is complex and there may be a lot of dynamics that could favour the other potential candidates.
“For example, Mwonzora as the current secretary-general of the party has significant influence in the party structures which could have a bearing on the outcome of the congress elections,” he said.
Mukonza argued that the fact Chamisa has been at helm could also work to his disadvantage because it has probably exposed his weaknesses in as much as it has allowed him to demonstrate his strength.
“The position has also resulted in him making some enemies within the party. The coming few weeks could be very crucial for this race,” he opined.
But Maxwell Saungweme,another political analyst, insisted that the advantage of incumbency would be the biggest undoing of Chamisa’s rivals.
“Chamisa is a man-of-the-moment in public and based by his popularity at rallies and the two plus million votes he got at presidential election, it looks foolhardy and hare-brained to try to challenge him,” Saungweme said.
He was, however, quick to point out that if elections are going to be done constitutionally with “the right delegates at the congress based on the party’s constitution, it’s conceivable that he can be challenged successfully.”
“But as we know, as much as democracy is scant in Zanu PF, so it is in MDC Alliance. You are likely to have both constitutional and unconstitutional sanctions and impediments being put in the way of anyone who dares challenge Chamisa.
“Whether Mudzuri or Mwonzora challenges Chamisa is dependent on the two’s reading of the congress, its constitutionality and the type of delegates invited. It will be heedless and daredevil for a monkey to go challenge for a position at a Congress of baboons,” said Saungweme.