The numbers that are making the opposition fretful

While the country has been under an unrelenting spell of numbing cold weather conditions for the past week, political temperatures, with 22 days to go to the elections, have been scotching hot.

With a new political administration that has shorn its campaign of the old politics of “blood and iron” in favour of entrenching the “speeches and resolutions” approach — itself the bane of democracy — it would have thought that canvassing for power ahead of the July 2013 elections would be civil across the political divide.

At first, it was, but it has all changed, giving way to fervent and toxic attacks, particularly on President Mnangagwa, who is the face of the new order, including frenetic jibber-jabber on social media, which has seemingly become desperate.

The new attacks, which are observably growing both in scale and incivility with each passing day as the election approaches, seem to betray a deep-seated sense of insecurity over what seems to be imminent disaster.

While spin doctors burn the midnight oil trying to present alternative realities, which is typical in political jockeying, science might be helpful in trying to understand the dynamics and possible outcomes of the plebiscite.

After poring over the numbers, statistics and previous voting patterns, especially covering the past 10 years, it is not hard to see why some political actors have become anxious, jittery and fretful.

Ceding territory in their own backyard

After having faced Zanu-PF for the past 18 years in pitched battles to wrestle power, the MDC Alliance, which is considered as the putative major challenger in this year’s elections, knows very well that the ruling party is a disciplined and consummate gladiator and, therefore, it will take formidable political force to upend it in its major strongholds.

So, engaging it on the electoral field takes an opponent with not only an impenetrable armour, but one who can hold their ground as well.

You simply cannot afford to cede ground to such a disciplined force; it is nothing short of being suicidal.

Yet the political intrigue and grumblings associated with the ascension of MDC Alliance leader Mr Nelson Chamisa to power, including the inherent intricacies and complexities of trying to harness a motley of variegated political interests, seem to have put the Alliances’ knickers in a twist.

It is undoubted that for the MDC Alliance to wage a strong campaign, Mr Chamisa needs to outperform the founding president of the MDC, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, consolidate his foothold in the opposition party’s strongholds — especially Harare and Bulawayo — and seamlessly conscript other political formations with a modicum of political gravitas, including, most crucially, making significant headway in Zanu-PF strongholds.

But this does not seem to be the case.

After the sitting of the Nomination Court on Thursday June 14, the Alliance, which is plagued by double nominations in key constituencies and failure to field candidates in some areas, including their perceived strongholds, will arguably go into this elections hobbling.

And this against a disciplined Zanu-PF, which has managed to field candidates in all the 210 constituencies, is nothing short of unnerving.

In both the 2008 and 2018 elections, the MDC performed well in the two major urban centres — Harare and Bulawayo.

In 2008, they bagged all the seats in Bulawayo (then 11) and captured all but one seat in Harare.

They repeated the same feat for Bulawayo in 2013, but they lost six of the 29 constituencies in Harare to Zanu-PF.

Put simply, the two provinces have been their main seat of power.

A successful campaign that would have trumped Mr Tsvangirai’s best efforts would mean the MDC Alliance need to not only maintain a vice grip in these provinces, but to go for a clean sweep.

Currently, they have serious problems in Harare.

Mabvuku-Tafara and Harare South

The MDC Alliance is presently sweating over two constituencies — Mabvuku-Tafara and Harare South — where they fielded more than two candidates.

Most notably, in Mabvuku-Tafara, where more than 13 candidates are vying for the constituency, Mr James Maridadi will face-off with his namesake and fellow party member Mr James Chidhakwa.

Earlier in 2013, Mr Maridadi carried the vote for the opposition by garnering 7 917 votes, which were 1 500 more than Cde Goodwills Masimirembwa, who had 6 319 votes.

Adding to the headache is also the presence of an MDC-T candidate, Mr Joseph Chikwanha.

A split of the vote will inevitably open the path for Cde Masimirembwa.

Similarly, MDC Alliance is dogged by the same problem in Harare South, where adopted party member Mr Shadreck Mashayamombe — a Zanu-PF reject — will duel with fellow Alliance member Mr Tichaona Samuel Saurombe.

The splinter faction, MDC-T, is also fielding Mr Desmond Jambaya.

Cde Tongai Mnangagwa will represent Zanu-PF in the constituency.

So, reversing their fortunes in the sprawling suburb will be difficult, considering that five years earlier, Zanu-PF had 20 069 votes in the constituency, 12 597 more than the then MDC-T vote.

But these two constituencies are the least of their worries.

Harare West, Harare Central, Glen View South & Mt Pleasant

The Alliance is facing real threats in its fortresses such as Harare West, Harare Central, Glen View South and Mount Pleasant.

The nasty fallout in Harare West over the candidature of political newbie Joanah Mamombe might backfire spectacularly in the constituency, where Jessie Fungayi Majome, who has since decided to contest as an independent candidate, seems to still have residual value.

And there is the added inconvenience of also wading off the challenge from the MDC-T candidate, Mr Eliah Zvimba.

Although the opposition had a 6 466 lead in 2013, a split among the three warring candidates might potentially pave the way for a Zanu-PF candidate in the area.

There are more speed bumps in Harare Central, where activist Ms Linda Musarira, who had been throwing her lot with the MDC-T, will represent the Dr Khupe-led formation against Mr Murisi Zwizwai, who is representing the Alliance.

It is interesting to note that the difference between Zanu-PF(4 974) and MDC-T (6 828) in the constituency in the 2013 elections was only 1854 votes.

If the MDC candidates share the vote, this might be a boon for Zanu-PF’s candidate, Mr Misheck Mangwende.

Glen View South has a similar dynamic to Harare West.

The bare-knuckle and blood-letting primary elections conducted by the MDC Alliance, which pitted the late Mr Tsvangirai’s daughter Vimbai Tsvangirai-Java and Gladmore Hakata, could have been divisive for the party. There is a section of opposition party supporters who feel that Ms Tsvangirai-Java is being unfairly imposed in the constituency.

Mr Hakata is now running as an independent candidate.

Furthermore, it will not be easy for the opposition party in Mt Pleasant constituency.

Having been wrestled from the opposition in 2013, the MDC Alliance’s candidate for this year’s elections, Mr Banda Samuel, will have to upstage defected member (Councillor) Mr Warship Dumba, who is now representing MDC-T, vanquish Advocate Fadzai Mahere, before contending with Zanu-PF’s candidate, Cde Jasson Passade.

And then there is Harare East, where the caustic and abrasive Mr Tendai Biti, who will be representing the MDC Alliance, will face off with the unfazed Mr Obert Gutu, deputy president of the MDC-T formation.

This is widely expected to be epic, but it also comes with collateral damage: lurking in the wings is Cde Terence Mukupe, who clearly must be salivating at the prospect of the former Alliance partners at each other’s throats.

Mbare

The 111-year-old iconic suburb of Mbare has been an oasis for Zanu-PF in urban centres. Again, the MDC factions will lock horns, with Mr Smart Chamisa (Alliance) battling it out with Mr Takaindisa Pascalina from the MDC-T.

It is important to note that in 2013, Cde Savanhu bagged the seat with 14 764 of the vote, compared to Mr Eric Knight, who garnered 10 932 votes, a lead of more than 3 832.

Put simply, the MDC Alliance will have to perform spectacularly well in order to beat the odds in seven key constituencies — Mabvuku-Tafara, Harare South, Harare West, Harare Central, Harare East, Mt Pleasant and Glen View South in order to retain dominance in a province they would have ordinarily been expected to win for their campaign to gain traction.

Bulawayo

In Bulawayo province, the MDC Alliance didn’t face difficulties in fielding candidates, or with double nominations.

It all seems hunky-dory before considering the deluge of candidates that have thrown their hats in the ring and the Dr Thokozani Khupe factor.

The MDC-T faction has managed to field candidates in all constituencies.

And if ever independent political candidates and the impact of multiple candidates is to be measured, then it will be in Bulawayo province.

Incidentally, all the 12 constituencies in the province have more than 12 candidates each.

It is important to note that MDC-T, led by Dr Thokozani Khupe, has successfully fielded candidates in all the constituencies.

Magwegwe has the most candidates (22), with six participating as independent candidates, followed by Pumula (21), Luveve (18), Pelandaba, Mpopoma, Nketa, Lobengula and Bulawayo Central (17), Bulawayo South (16), Nkulumane and Bulawayo East (15) and Emakandeni-Entumbane (12).

Overall, while the MDC Alliance might have reason to believe in this province, a split vote — similar to the one that has been seriously damaging their prospects in the past elections in Matabeleland South — might be calamitous, especially in a province they need to hold.

Bungling in Zanu-PF’s backyard

Remember, for the MDC Alliance to entertain any hopes of upstaging the ruling Zanu-PF, it has to run an outstanding campaign against extraordinary odds of their own making in their own strongholds before barrelling through the revolutionary party’s strongholds.

This clearly takes a disciplined and focussed campaign.

Arguably, the sternest test Zanu-PF has ever faced was in 2008 when a sagging economy, basic commodities shortages and succession intrigue in the ruling party conspired to spawn a protest vote that was quite damaging to the party.

But despite these political headwinds, they still managed to hold the fort in Mashonaland Central, where they retained 16 seats to MDC’s two; Mashonaland West, as they managed 16 seats while MDC claimed six; and Mashonaland East, where they gained 19 seats to MDC’s four.

In 2013, however, the party managed to build from these fortresses in order to master a clean sweep in Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, Matabeleland South and they fell one seat short of taking all the seats in Mashonaland East.

Mr Jonathan Samkange — a Zanu-PF member who contested as an independent candidate — managed to get the outstanding seat.

He has since been nominated to contest as Zanu-PF in this year’s elections.

But can the MDC Alliance, under a new candidate, manage to do the trick?

Mashonaland Central

Well, it seems not to be the case.

While the MDC-T faction, which has managed to field candidates in four of the 18 constituencies (Shamva South, Mazowe Central, Bindura South and Bindura North), is less of a problem for the alliance in the province, the problem is in their own backyard.

Quite ominously, the Alliance has two candidates in each of the four constituencies: Mazowe North (Stephen Muchenje and Mcumillan Ndhlovu); Mazowe South (Mr Gift Chimanikire and Ms Faith Gamuchirai Chakwera); Mazowe West (Thamarie Chimanzi and Rorana Machihwa); and Muzarabani North (Takawira Agreement Kagura and Lawrence Mushori).

This does not read well in a province that has proven to be reliable in delivering the Zanu-PF vote.

Food for thought: in the 2013 elections, Zanu-PF grossed 327 000 votes in Mashonaland Central compared to 46 533 for the then MDC-T, which yields a remarkably steep gap of 280 912 votes.

Masvingo

In Masvingo, the MDC Alliance managed to somewhat redeem itself.

Initially, it had two candidates in six constituencies — Bikita East, Gutu North, Gutu Central, Gutu West, Masvingo South and Zaka West.

However, the opposition party managed to secure withdrawals in four constituencies within the seven-day window that was provided for by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Only two remain in Bikita East (Jacob Ngarivhume — a principal in the MDC Alliance — is one of the candidates — who is being contested by Boniface Mudzingwa) and in Gutu North (Juniel Manyere and Edmore Maramwidze)

The MDC-T has only secured nominations in 11 of the 26 constituencies.

In a huge gamble, especially for a party that purports to oppose everything that Zanu-PF stands for, the MDC Alliance is betting on former President Robert Mugabe’s alleged proxies for salvation.

In Mwenezi East, they want to cash in their chips through Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who has had diabolical political fortunes over the past three years, especially within the context of Zanu-PF recent succession politics.

He was spit out by the former President, Mr Robert Mugabe, before being ditched by Zimbabwe People First, where he wanted to find a political home under the then interim leader, Dr Joice Mujuru.

With so much political stink lingering around Bhasikiti, the Alliance, however, hopes he will be sellable in the constituency.

But the underwhelming reception that Chamisa received recently in the constituency might be telling.

Another huge gamble is Jappy Jaboon in Bikita South, who temporarily found himself in the cold after the military intervention in November last year.

It is not going to be easy for this former G40 foot soldier who, like Bhasikiti, is now representing the Alliance.

He faces Charles Nyajena, a MDC member who has decided to run as an independent, and Tawanda Makatawa, who is representing the Dr Khupe faction.

In 2013, the opposition party was thoroughly thumped in the province as it only managed to bag 104 912 votes to Zanu-PF’s 285 806, a yawning gap of 180 894 votes.

 Matabeleland South

The MDC Alliance also repeated the same missteps in Matabeleland South province, where it will face a combo of Zapu candidates and its rival MDC-T candidates in 11of the 13 constituencies.

What is worrying for the MDC Alliance is that there is no candidate in Insiza North.

While the opposition party’s spin doctors have said they will support a Zapu candidate, what could be unsettling for them is that they are actually two candidates representing Zapu in the same constituency — Mpofu Sithembiso and Earnest Ndlovu.

It simply becomes farcical.

Alarm bells

The challenges faced by the MDC Alliance in all the constituencies highlighted above arguably show how unwieldy the coalition has become, inherent indiscipline within the party and lack of a coherent plan and strategy within the campaign.

While some might argue that these errors of omission and commission by the opposition party are inconsequential, they need to think again.

The MDC Alliance is now in a space that they shouldn’t be if they entertained any chances of ending Zanu-PF 38-year hold on power.

In Matabeleland South, four Zanu-PF council candidates in the province submitted their papers unopposed.

Cde Sibongile Chauke was unopposed in Beitbridge Rural District Council Ward 13, while in Matobo North constituency, Cdes Tobias Sibanda, Thomas Ncube and Paul Ncube sailed through unopposed in Wards 22, 23 and 24, respectively.

The four wards are part of the 46 that have since been handed over to Zanu-PF on a silver platter.

On June 26, ZEC, in terms of Section 125 (4) of the Electoral Act, published names of candidates nominated to stand in local government elections.

The list showed that in addition to the four wards in Mat South, Zanu-PF has also won 19 wards uncontested in Mashonaland Central province — a reliable power base — 13 in the Midlands and nine in Mashonaland East.

Also quite telling is the crowd that has been unkind to MDC Alliance candidate Mr Chamisa in Zanu-PF strongholds.

His sparse crowd at Maphisa (Matabeleland South) on May 24 was pitiable. Likewise, the turnout in Mwenezi (Masvingo) on June 9 and Chivhu (Mashonaland East) on July 5 was disappointing.

It should be dawning on him and his alliance partners that politics is not a beauty pageant, but beastly business.

But his partners, some of who have foisted themselves on his campaign, are becoming desperate.

The curious grouping that was in the forefront of attacking President Mnangagwa before his ouster from Government and Zanu-PF on November 6 and November 8 last year, have now coalesced, and having their efforts blunted by the military last year, they have now found a new home on social media, particularly Twitter.

The Ari Ben-Menashe-type of videos now litter timelines on the micro-blogging site, while the strident spin is becoming desperate.

It is believed that these forces are throwing their lot with Mr Chamisa not because they believe in him, but because they believe his supposed ascendancy will further their interests, protect their ill-gotten wealth and escape culpability for their past misdeeds.

It obviously comes with a cost as their baggage might weigh down the already burdened MDC Alliance’s ship.

Despite the foregoing signs, miracles do happen, and this is why Mr Donald Trump now occupies the White House in the United States of America.

In times of great peril, it is human nature to look to the Bible, and the David and Goliath tale might be comforting for the MDC Alliance.

It might be David and Goliath all over again, but this time the latter-day David seems to have perilously forgotten his sling.

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