Zim runs out of options
Bitter reality defies all talk of a new leader or movement to break the political stalemate in Zimbabwe.
After he was pushed out into the cold by Zanu-PF in 2005, a disillusioned Jonathan Moyo declared that Zimbabwe needed a "third way".
Both Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had failed, Moyo wrote then, and "patriots" needed to forge a new "political and economic synthesis – where Zanu-PF is the failed thesis and the MDC the unsuccessful antithesis".
Now, with Zanu-PF drifting along with no real solution to a deepening economic crisis and the MDC breaking itself apart, talk is again about the possibility of a "third way".
But it is unlikely that disillusionment with the two main parties has grown sufficiently to make a third party viable. Zimbabwe remains polarised, with little space in the middle ground.
It is telling that, not long after Moyo bandied about the possibility of his "synthesis", he himself was back in the Zanu-PF fold, saying "it's cold out there".
Many have tried to pull themselves away from Zanu-PF and the MDC, hoping to sell a brand of clean politics to counter the violence and patronage that have become hallmarks of Zanu-PF and the MDC. But their careers now serve only as fodder in the hands of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe, who use their example to ward off internal criticism – go against me and you are out on your own.
'It doesn't work here'
Last year, Welshman Ncube ran on a platform of clean politics and decentralisation. He got only 2.6% of the presidential vote. In 2008, Simba Makoni broke from Zanu-PF, promising to forge an alliance with "progressive forces". He got only 8%.
In a birthday interview last month, Mugabe offered a brutal assessment of that kind of politics: "It doesn't work here."
In recent meetings with his senior officials, Tsvangirai has also used the fate of his former allies as a whip. His public invitations to Ncube and others who have left the MDC were meant more as reminders to internal party rebels who may be thinking of branching out on their own.
Inside the MDC, even senior officials opposed to Tsvangirai admit that leaving the party is a major gamble. They insist the party will have to reform or watch its support fall further. The party's campaign messages are tired and worn, secretary general Tendai Biti said last week.
"We were selling hopes and dreams when Zanu-PF was selling practical realities," Biti said, in remarks that drew the fury of Tsvangirai's backers.
But many within the party agree with him. "It is time the MDC quickly embarked on a steadfast process of evolution if it is to remain relevant to the emerging political dispensation," Promise Mkwananzi, the MDC youth chairperson, said.
MDC will survive
Other observers say that Tsvangirai will survive the current internal battles but the violence and intolerance will make it difficult to win over outsiders to the MDC.
"The MDC may well survive this, and Morgan may well remain its leader, enjoying the support of some of us, but the reality is that what is happening severely damages him and the party he leads," McDonald Lewanika, a political activist, said.
Western nations are softening their position on Mugabe's government but are actively encouraging the emergence of a new alliance of reformists from both sides. They are looking past Tsvangirai and, for the first time, openly criticising him.
But it is hard to see a new party, or a new opposition leader, emerging who has as much influence as Tsvangirai.
"His leadership of the MDC touched the collective consciousness of many in his country and it will be hard for any individual to recreate the impact he had," a scholar, Simukai Tinhu, said.
'No chance' of a new party
A senior Zanu-PF politburo member this week also dismissed the possibility of a new party emerging.
"If any new party is to have an impact, it would mean senior, well-known people leaving both the party [Zanu-PF] and the MDC to form some kind of alliance. There is no chance of that," the official said.
In an interview last year, Makoni said the majority were, in fact, those who were not voting.
"People have been forced to believe they can only pick from three choices: Zanu-PF, the MDC or no party at all," he lamented. "This is wrong."