On July 30th, Zimbabwe holds its first general elections since the resignation of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe. The polls give opposition parties their first real chance of taking power since Zimbabwe won independence. The main opposition MDC is divided into factions, and analysts say this hurts the party’s chance of claiming the presidency.
The elections on July 30 will be the first to be contested by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) without its founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. He died early this year after a long battle against colon cancer.
Despite brutal beatings, arrests and threats to his life, Tsvangirai fought for democracy in Zimbabwe from the formation of his party in 1999 until his death.
Solomon Chikowero is one of the founding members of the MDC. He described Tsvangirai as a selfless, humble and patient man who preached unity, justice and freedom for all.
“Morgan wanted to see everyone in Zimbabwe enjoying the freedom that the freedom fighters in both ZANU and ZAPU fought for,” said Chikowero. “Whether you are a descendant of a freedom fighter or a descendant of somebody who never went to war, Morgan wanted to see everybody enjoying that freedom.”
Since his death, however, the MDC has split into factions. On the day of his burial, there were violent clashes between the factions of MDC officials Thokozani Khuphe and Nelson Chamisa, each claiming to be the rightful person to take over.
Chamisa’s MDC has formed a coalition with seven other parties, changing its name to MDC Alliance; however, these are largely unknown parties whose support among the electorate is mere guesswork.
Brian Raptopoulos, director at the Peace Solidarity Trust in South Africa, says the fragmentation within the opposition has weakened its chance for victory at the polls.
“The failure to develop a more united voice has been very significant and I think it will be costly,” said Raptopoulos. “I’m not sure if there have been enough preparations around the technicalities of the election, preparing election officials, election monitors.”
MDC Alliance spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda says Chamisa has properly filled the gap left by Tsvangirai and will emerge as the country’s president after the elections.
“You have seen already, how he has captured the hearts of the young and the old and how he is intellectually ready and prepared to deal with the challenges of our time,” said Sibanda. “Remember, Zimbabwe must be able to progress and catch up with the rest of the world and I think that the leadership of President Chamisa provides that opportunity in a way that no other could.”
The MDC Alliance was recently on the streets demonstrating against what it called attempts by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to rig the elections. Chief amongst their worries is the secrecy around the type of ballot paper to be used and how it is being printed.
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