A LOT of Zimbabweans still believe in the power of fair competition. Douglas Mwonzora has thrown down the gauntlet and is running for MDC presidency, meaning Nelson Chamisa faces a congress challenge.
Most of the ambitious senior MDC politicians, even those who have strong objections to Chamisa, have been inhibited by the conventional wisdom that running against the 41-year-old would be a suicide mission. True, Chamisa appears in a very strong position to win.
But the truth is that the risks of challenging Chamisa are greatly overestimated. Mwonzora is doing himself a world of good by running against Chamisa. It keeps the youthful president on his toes, and propels him to work for his win unlike being elected unopposed.
Even if Mwonzora loses, he would establish himself as a top contender for the leadership of a post-Chamisa MDC party, even in 2024, if the incumbent loses the 2023 general election.
Mwonzora would also give a boost to the influence of his ideas within the party. Given, Mwonzora’s campaign against the re-election of a sitting president is a first.
Chamisa’s predecessor, Morgan Tsvangirai never faced such a challenge. Mwonzora, who has previously beaten Chamisa in elections, poses a threat of harming the incumbent president.
Chamisa has drawn a serious congress challenger in Mwonzora.
The rising power of the Chamisa presidency has probably played a role in the perception of increased risk. It’s unsurprising Mwonzora’s bid against Chamisa has spawned all sorts of accusations, including that the secretary-general is a Trojan Horse for Zanu PF. This is gobbledygook.
Mwonzora must be commended for this bold move. If Chamisa wins re-election, destroying Mwonzora’s political future will also be, we can be fairly confident, a high priority for the re-elected president.
It may be that partisans are wrong to be so concerned about the damage a vigorous Chamisa-Mwonzora duel can do to the party’s standing.
A paradox may be at work here: Negative partisanship makes voters reluctant to back challenges against incumbent presidents, but also means the challenges cannot have the impact they fear.
But to say that the fear of a contest is overblown is not to say that the fear is politically unimportant. Like it or not, ambitious senior MDC cadres have good reasons to think that Mwonzora’s campaign against Chamisa would end their political careers if the current president loses. Mwonzora’s challenge to the conventional wisdom is invigorating.