The two MDC formations are in talks to put up a united front against Zanu-PF at the polls, or even consolidate their winnings after the elections.
Party sources say Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders have urged a coalition between Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T and Welshman Ncube’s smaller MDC.
The talks are at an advanced stage despite resistance from officials in both camps. On Thursday Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader Simba Makoni called a press conference to announce he is not going to stand as a presidential candidate in elections as part of ongoing talks among opposition parties. Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa also confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that there are talks among opposition parties.
The M&G understands from senior members of the MDC-T's executive council that several senior party officials, among them secretary general Tendai Biti and other advisors, are pushing Tsvangirai to form an alliance with Ncube. Under the proposed alliance, the sources said, Tsvangirai would run as the presidential candidate and the parties would agree on how to share seats in Parliament as well as government posts after they win the elections.
The discussions also involve the possibility of Ncube as Tsvangirai's deputy under a new government. Complications have arisen, however, over fears by Ncube's officials that, once in power, Tsvangirai will elbow them out in favour of his own officials. A member of the MDC-T's executive council said they believe Ncube has gained support in Midlands and the Matabeleland provinces and his rising popularity may split the opposition votes between the two parties, as these are also the strongholds of MDC-T support. This split of votes, he said, would better President Robert Mugabe's chances of winning.
"Everyone stands to win if we formed an alliance. If we had formed an alliance in 2008, Mugabe and Zanu-PF would have been out of power," the council member said. He said there were similar talks in 2008 that collapsed at the eleventh hour. "Tsvangirai does not really trust Ncube and neither does Ncube trust or like him, but we are nudging them towards a coalition. Both of them also know that they stand to benefit.
"Besides, we have also been getting advice from our regional peers, and the message is that we stand a better chance if we unite. The problem though is that some party officials, among them MDC-T’s deputy president Thokozani Khupe and national chairman Lovemore Moyo, are against the coalition," he said.
Moyo denied he was a stumbling block, saying he is guided by the party. "I don't operate on the basis of what I want, but on the basis of what the party wants. Our policy is that we are open to an alliance with like-minded, level-headed people and organisations.
"Obviously, there must be commonalities. As long as we share the same values, we can unite. I was part of the 2008 negotiations where we had differences," he said.
Khupe could not be reached for comment. In the days leading up to the SADC extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe in Maputo on June 16, Tsvangirai, Ncube, Makoni, Dabengwa and Zanu-Ndonga chairman Reketai Semwayo met twice and made a joint appeal to the SADC to act against Mugabe's unilateral decision on the election date. At that summit, the source said, regional leaders advised the groups to form a coalition if they wanted to defeat Mugabe.
The parties met again after the summit, further raising speculation that they were discussing the possibility of a coalition, but they denied the reports. Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza confirmed the negotiations, saying he "knows for a fact" that the two parties would form an alliance either during or after the elections. He said the parties were merely politicking by denying that they were engaged in talks. "MDC-T needs Welshman and Welshman needs MDC-T. There will definitely be an alliance and they are working on it," he said.
"Welshman has no chance of winning the presidential election or a majority in Parliament, so why will he be spoiling for a fight? But you can't ignore him, because he has the capacity to win about 20 seats and all he needs is about 10 seats to be relevant because we are likely to have a hung Parliament," said Mandaza.
But a hurried election would complicate matters, given that the Nomination Court was scheduled to sit on Friday, he said. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court postponed Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa's application to move the election date to August 14. "If the time frame being suggested by Welshman, that is to say, elections can be held four months after June 29 when Parliament dissolves, then an alliance before elections can easily be reached. It is possible though that, even after nomination, you can tell your supporters to vote for a certain individual but if that fails they will form a coalition after the polls," said Mandaza.
'Nothing has been finalised yet'
Asked for comment this week, MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said the party's leadership was only exchanging notes with Ncube's officials, but no formal talks had been held. He said his party was willing to form an alliance with other parties, but insisted that any talks happening were informal. "People meet and exchange notes and our leaders are talking at various levels," he said. "Our position as MDC-T is that [we] welcome the unity of purpose of all progressive forces that encourages parties to work together. However, nothing has been formalised yet."
Spokesperson of the smaller MDC, Kurauone Chihwayi, said his party was concentrating on winning, but was open to a coalition. He also said his party did not believe Tsvangirai was serious about a coalition, though his party, MDC-T, was talking about it at "kitchen parties and beer halls".
But another senior member of Ncube's MDC said his party is discussing the issue. "We discussed the coalition during our National Standing Committee meeting in Bulawayo a fortnight ago. We appointed our secretary general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and treasurer-general Paul Themba-Nyathi as point persons for negotiations, and this should mean we are willing to form an alliance with other parties," he said.