MDC’s Chamisa gears up for fight of his life

MDC’s Chamisa gears up for fight of his life

Reeling from the recent death of its influential former leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and facing its first major election of the post-Mugabe era, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) might be expected to play down its chances of success in the upcoming presidential election.

But in a public appearance at London’s Chatham House, 40-year old leader Nelson Chamisa was far from bashful when predicting a victory over President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the end of Zanu-PF rule.  

“Yes, we are going to win that election, we are so confident. There’s no way Mnangagwa will win an election in Zimbabwe. The mood on the ground is right, the momentum is right for us, the opportunity is right for us.”

For veterans of Zimbabwean politics, that statement looks very much like hubris. As the ultimate Zanu-PF insider with decades of regime experience, Mnangagwa has proved a wily and ruthless operator, never more so than when he wielded army support to oust the long-term president, Robert Mugabe, in last year’s military coup.

As the incumbent in a party which has rarely allowed fair campaigning, Mnangagwa will command the overwhelming support of state media and the security forces in the run-up to July’s showdown. Having removed Mugabe, Mnangagwa is also viewed by many voters as a surprising emblem of change. Yet Chamisa believes that he offers an alternative vision for voters ground down by poverty, unemployment and repression.

“We are here to articulate the transformation promise… We need to shift our country back on the path of economic revival and reconstruction, opportunity and prosperity.”

Chamisa says that the party’s platform focuses on five areas – reform of governance structures, economic revival, improvements to social conditions, infrastructure, and an overhaul of Zimbabwe’s strained international relations. Perhaps most resonant is Chamisa’s plan to kickstart the decrepit economy.

Since Mugabe’s ousting, Mnangagwa has promised wide-ranging reforms and pledged to lure mineral and agricultural investors back to the country in a bid to boost job creation. However, with multilateral donors and investors taking a wait-and-see attitude until after elections, there are signs that Mnangagwa is struggling to manage voter expectations. That could offer an opening to the economically liberal MDC.  

“We want to move from being a commodities economy to a diversified economy, value addition being a key ingredient, dealing with productivity, making sure we produce more. It won’t be possible to turn around the economy without dealing with issues of corruption. You can’t expect new out of the old in terms of the current government.”

Chamisa’s comments regarding the potential expulsion of Chinese investors proved rather more controversial, but he insists that he’s been misunderstood.

“All I’ve said is that certain deals have been done… some from China, some from other countries, and those deals
have to be investigated and under review so it’s a win-win situation.”

Even if Chamisa’s economic vision attracts voters, nobody knows whether Zanu-PF will allow free and fair elections, or how the ruling party will react in the event of defeat. Senior MDC figures recall the violent backlash orchestrated by Mugabe following the party’s strong showing in 2008 polls. Chamisa says that Zanu-PF will revert to coercion.

“The intimidation we are going to see is not that overt, physical, public violence, it’s going to be soft violence, soft terror, in that people are
going to be reminded of past dynamics.”

In a bid to force free elections, Chamisa says that his party will stick to “dealbreakers” without which “we cannot do any business of an election” – including clarity around who prints the ballot papers, an audit of the biometric voter registration platform to expunge “ghost voters” and assurances around military neutrality. But it remains unclear if the party is planning a boycott.  

“We are going to give timelines very soon in terms of when we are going to say this far and no further. We will not boycott an election because we cannot boycott ourselves, we are the election, we are the people… If we want we must protest on the streets, but we will make sure the elections are indeed free and fair.”

Against this uncertain backdrop, Chamisa expresses his dismay with the British government, which he says has overlooked the importance of a free and fair vote in an attempt to ingratiate itself with Mnangagwa.

“There’s a very disturbing trend in the context of the British government in Zimbabwe. We are seeing a natural tendency and inclination to align with one political party against another…

“We’re not asking for money. We’re asking for the solidarity of a global coalition for free and fair elections.”

David Thomas

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