HARARE – Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has received an early boost ahead of what could turn out to be a bruising contest when the MDC congress gets underway in three months’ time — after several party structures moved to endorse his candidature at the weekend.
This comes as speculation is growing that respected MDC secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora — as well as one of Chamisa’s two deputies, Elias Mudzuri — could also throw their hats into the ring when the country’s main opposition party holds its eagerly-awaited elective congress in May.
The charismatic Chamisa took over the party’s reins under hotly-disputed circumstances in February last year, following the death of the MDC’s revered founding president Morgan Tsvangirai — who lost his valiant battle against colon cancer on Valentine’s Day, and soon after he had elevated the youthful politician to the party’s presidium.
With behind-the-scenes campaigning gathering steam ahead of the party’s congress, many MDC structures are already marking the territory for their favoured leaders — with a number of them moving to make it clear at the weekend that Chamisa would receive their backing when this highly-anticipated gathering gets underway in May.
“We met as a provincial executive council on Sunday and unanimously agreed to stand by the president (Chamisa), so that he takes us to 2023.
“It was not a difficult decision to reach because what he has done so far is there for all to see … It is clear that nobody in the party at present can match that,” Mashonaland West provincial secretary Edson Ndirayire told the Daily News yesterday.
Mashonaland East provincial chairperson Piniel Denga also said while they had not met as a province to nominate their candidate, the executive had earlier agreed at its provincial assembly meeting that Chamisa should remain at the party’s helm.
“As the chairman, I made that proposal and it was agreed to by all … so when the nomination day comes, we are simply going to refer to that agreement, and so our position is already clear that we are going with Chamisa,” Denga said.
On her part, women’s assembly chairperson Lynnet Karenyi-Kore said the fact that Chamisa had emerged leader at short notice following the death of Tsvangirai — while also going on to perform well in the July 30, 2018 presidential election — was “enough proof that he was a solid leader”.
“As women, we are confident that only Chamisa has what it takes now. He managed to get us over two million votes despite the handicap of having to be thrown at the deep end at the last minute.
“We still want him to continue and see where he takes us because the road we have travelled with him so far is promising … and so come congress he is our man,” Karenyi-Kore said emphatically.
And speaking to the Daily News separately, MDC youth assembly secretary-general Lovemore Chinoputsa also said they were already lobbying other structures to rally behind Chamisa.
“Our support for Chamisa is premised on the principle that young people should be promoted into positions of leadership — hence for purposes of this congress we have taken a decision to work towards convincing all other structures in this regard,” Chinoputsa said.
However, other party insiders said it was not yet “cast in stone that Chamisa will roll over” his opponents in May. This was particularly so if Mwonzora decided to contest him.
“These elections are far from decided because it is early days yet. Anyone, particularly Dougie (Mwonzora) has a chance of winning this post because he is respected and loved by many in the party who see him as mature and level-headed.
“Remember too that five years ago, Chamisa lost to Mwonzora hands down despite him thinking that he had the support of 11 of the party’s 12 provinces.
“As you also know, a day is too long in politics … and indeed, only time will tell when we get to May how the exact picture will look like, as well as who is likely to win,” one of the insiders told the Daily News.
The well-placed source’s sentiments come after Chamisa was defeated by Mwonzora in 2014 for the secretary-general’s post — who was, at the time, considered a rank outsider in those elections.
Chamisa then held the powerful post of MDC organising secretary, a position which was said to have given him the opportunity to revamp party structures in his favour — and which structures were expected to give him an overwhelming victory against Mwonzora, who was the party spokesperson at the time.
Mwonzora scored a shock and unexpected crushing victory over Chamisa — which saw him getting 2 464 votes against his rival’s 1 756.
This subsequently left Chamisa as an ordinary card-carrying member, before he was rescued by Tsvangirai who appointed him to the MDC national executive as secretary for policy and research.
There were even unconfirmed suggestions at the time that a stunned Chamisa, unwilling to stomach the results of those internal polls, was even contemplating resigning from the MDC altogether — which never happened.
In an ironic turn of fate, Chamisa was to later assume the reins of the country’s main opposition party ahead of his rivals following the death of Tsvangirai last year — albeit, under controversial circumstances.
The 41-year-old was accused of having allegedly used his then assumed closeness to Tsvangirai’s widow, Elizabeth, to torpedo the ambitions of the likes of Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe.
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.
Chamisa ultimately prevailed over his party competitors after a consultative meeting of the MDC, which was held at its Harare headquarters — and which was attended by 639 delegates from 210 party districts — endorsed him as Tsvangirai’s successor and the party’s presidential candidate in the 2018 polls.