Are these child steps to a coalition?
LAST week, five fringe opposition parties announced the formation of the Coalition of Democrats (CODE), an alliance that seeks to bring all opposition parties in Zimbabwe under one roof for purposes of wresting power from ZANU-PF.
While those that are part of this initiative are buoyant about its future prospects, analysts are not convinced that the grouping has what it takes to change the status-quo.
While to a lot of Zimbabweans, CODE’s launch represents a step in the right direction, it remains a herculean task for the alliance to go beyond that first stride.
There seems to be a meeting of minds among Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties that previous attempts to break ZANU-PF’s stranglehold on power have failed because of the disunity among them.
Like water and oil, the country’s opposition parties have found it difficult to come together to present a formidable challenge against ZANU-PF.
As a result, ZANU-PF has been in power for 36 years since April 1980, when Zimbabwe attained its independence from Britain.
With the 2018 polls less than two years away, opposition parties in Zimbabwe are frantically trying to find each other in order to increase their chances of dethroning ZANU-PF.
On Tuesday last week, five small opposition parties formed CODE.
These are Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) led by Simba Makoni; Welshman Ncube’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ) led by Elton Mangoma; the Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE) headed by Gilbert Dzikiti and Farai Mbira’s Zimbabweans United for Democracy (ZUNDE), .
By any stretch of the imagination, these are fringe political players.
A grouping of politcal midgets is therefore unlikely to unsettle ZANU-PF, unless subsequent steps succeed in drawing bigger opposition parties into the tent.
Two key opposition parties that are currently outside the discussions, are the MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), fronted by former vice president Joice Mujuru.
These are the parties Zimbabweans think should form the heart of the coalition as they have a groundswell of support, especially at grassroots level.
However, Mujuru’s party claims it needs more time to enable it to hold its elective congress where a substantive leadership would be ushered into office.
ZPF is scheduled to hold its inaugural congress in October this year, where Mujuru is expected to emerge as the elected leader of the movement to face President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF in the 2018 elections.
Indications are that ZPF would prefer engaging in discussions to be part of a collation once it has mobilised enough numbers at the grassroots level to bolster its bargaining muscle once at the coalition’s negotiating table.
Without the numbers, the feeling in ZPF is that they would not be able to secure the leadership of the coalition since they would be regarded as political upstarts with no visible support base.
ZPF is also convinced that Mujuru should lead the coalition as she is alleged to enjoy the support of some within the security establishment as well as the former liberation war fighters.
In the past, the country’s security sector has made it clear that the office of the President and Cabinet could only be occupied by a person with liberation war credentials.
Obert Gutu, spokesperson for the MDC-T was quoted recently saying his party was not invited to CODE’s signing ceremony, although it is willing to work with all pro-democracy parties and groups in a grand coalition that would challenge ZANU-PF’s rule, come 2018.
Indications are that the MDC-T’s executive is split right through the middle over the idea.
On the one hand, there are members of the MDC-T’s executive who have given their thumbs up to the idea saying it was only through an alliance that the opposition parties in Zimbabwe could stand a better chance of toppling ZANU-PF from power.
But there is also another group which is fiercely resistant to the coalition, arguing that the MDC-T should go it alone to avoid the prospect of a hybrid government of ideologically incompatible parties that would have been brought together by the grand coalition.
Analysts say somehow, this group has been excited by the recent turnout at the MDC-T’s demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo meant to put pressure on the ZANU-PF government to fulfill its election promises and account for the US$15 billion revenue lost through leakages in the sale of Chiadzwa diamonds.
MDC-T insiders said some of Tsvangirai’s lieutenants were against the coalition for selfish purposes.
These do not want to be deprived of top positions in any set up that could emerge out of the coalition talks.
The only way they can secure their interests is if the MDC-T goes solo.
Apart from ZPF and the MDC-T, there are other smaller parties that are still to append their signatures on the CODE pact.
Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party and ZAPU led by former ZIPRA supremo, Dumiso Dabengwa, said they still need to consult their members before joining the coalition.
Despite the absence of some of the key players in the opposition, those behind CODE are confident that they are on the right track.
Dzikiti, who was appointed the first chairperson of CODE said the coming together of the five opposition political parties was an important milestone in the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.
But before the ink has even dried on the agreement, questions are being asked whether the coalition would go the distance.
The identity of those fronting the coalition is also under the spotlight.
The cast includes familiar faces that have been on the political scene for the past two decades namely Ncube and Mangoma — both infamous for their divisive politics which saw them break ranks with Tsvangirai.
Makoni, a former ZANU PF Politburo member, is also part of the new coalition.
Having broken away from their former political parties over issues of ideology, would these figures succeed in putting their differences aside?
Is this not just a coalition of political desperados seeking relevance in a country that has completely lost its bearings?
The other characters are basically unknown quantities in Zimbabwe’s political scheme of things.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor, Eldred Masunungure, believes the coalition does not have what it takes to draw popular support to win elections.
“It’s premature for the 2018 election, maybe for 2023 or subsequent elections, and frankly speaking on the strength of the opposition parties and their numbers, I don’t think they would succeed even if ZANU-PF was to continue with the factional fights,” Masunungure opined.
“A functional democracy works best when you have strong political parties, so you need a strong ruling party and strong opposition parties; it will be ideal if strong opposition parties were to combine forces. But then in their present state of individual weakness even combining would not make a significant difference to an electoral outcome in 2018, maybe in other elections. The opposition parties should get their houses in order because the opposition landscape is so fragmented that I don’t see any viable grand coalition in the foreseeable future,” he added.
Political analyst, Alexandra Rusero, also believes that CODE, despite having taken two years to come to life, is a rushed job.
Rusero said it would be interesting to see how CODE would subsist given the fact that the leaders of the various political parties to the coalition are currently mired in leadership squabbles in their own backyards.
“It is a little bit rushed because already there are leadership squabbles within their parties which they should address first before they start thinking of joining hands; there is a lot in terms of solidifying party structures. There is need for these party leaders to push for an electoral reform since it is a coalition of people with big egos, who at one time moved from other parties. This further makes it an uneasy coalition,” he said.
CODE might also suffer serious financial problems given that it, according to its founders, does not have any cash injection to allow it to kick-start its programmes.
Asked about the sources of their funding, Dzikiti, the chairman, said: “CODE survives on the funding from our political parties.”
Mangoma said: “We are renewed democrats and we fund ourselves.”
But one wonders what amounts these parties can afford given their insignificant following at a time when all of them are virtually broke.
Another interesting element of this coalition is that its chairmanship will be rotated every two months, which means that continuity under the circumstances can become problematic.
Dzikiti’s tenure ends at the end of July upon which another person from any of the political parties in CODE is chosen.
By the time the country conducts its next general elections in 2018, CODE’s chairmanship would have rotated 11 times.
If CODE membership remains as it was at the signing ceremony on Tuesday last week, then each of the leaders would lead the coalition at least twice before the next plebiscite.
CODE, which shall have nine committees — one of them being the finance and administration committee to source funding among other roles — shall be run by a governing council comprising all the presidents or principals of the member political parties.
In the meantime, one may just give the coalition the benefit of the doubt given that CODE’s mission is merely to: “Be the democratic platform where like-minded political parties, bound by common values and objectives, collectively take responsibility for providing leadership and opportunities which address the multiple and complex challenges facing our nation.”
In his speech Dzikiti said: “Every one of the leaders present, have put self-interest aside, to work with others to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Indeed, the deepening levels of poverty, hunger, man-made economic depression, lack of jobs, unprecedented corruption, lack of care, deprivation, exclusion and many other ills, have touched their conscience and are a clarion call for unity of purpose … Zimbabwe today has a leadership crisis and vacuum which has eroded national institutions, failure to respect the Constitution and dangerous encroachment on civil liberties. CODE is the answer to a better Zimbabwe.”
As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one simple step.
In CODE’s view, they have made that first step.
What follows will put to test the commitment of opposition parties towards bringing political change to Zimbabwe, come 2018.
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