/ 4 February 2008

Divided MDC will be Mugabe ‘mincemeat’

The Zimbabwe opposition’s failure to bury its differences and agree on a joint electoral strategy means President Robert Mugabe is a virtual shoo-in for a sixth term of office, analysts said on Monday.

With annual inflation beyond 26 000% and unemployment at about 80%, Mugabe and his Zanu-PF might normally be all but given up ahead of the polls on March 29.

But Sunday’s announcement that the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would field separate candidates rather than make common cause against Mugabe has led commentators to close the book on the contest.

”It’s worthless going into the election divided as they are because there is no chance they are going to win, even against a Zanu-PF that has been weakened by the economic crisis,” said Harare-based political commentator Bill Saidi.

”A lot of people had placed hope on the opposition to deliver them from the present difficulties. This is a big letdown and the MDC leaders should be ashamed of themselves.”

Once a formidable force posing the stiffest challenge to Mugabe’s more than two-decade stranglehold on power, the MDC split into two factions following a row over contesting senate elections in 2006.

There had been hopes the cracks would be at least papered over at election time, with MDC main leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his party rival, Arthur Mutambara, talking up the need for unity after they were both beaten up by the security forces last March.

But despite lengthy talks, compromise proved beyond them and neither man was prepared to back down over the joint parliamentary and presidential election.

After voicing his ”regret” over the MDC’s failure to unite, Tsvangirai tried to put on a brave face and insisted that there was still ”a fighting chance” of toppling the 83-year-old Mugabe.

But Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said the decision was tantamount to electoral suicide.

”The decision to go separate ways was self-destructive … They will be mincemeat for the ruling party,” said Masunungure.

‘Two-headed snake’

While Zanu-PF has remained tight-lipped over the implosion in the opposition ranks, the state-run Herald newspaper said the feud was bound to benefit the ruling party.

”The two MDC formations will now contest the elections as different fronts, a situation that will work to Zanu-PF’s advantage in some constituencies as the two factions will split the opposition vote,” the newspaper said on Monday.

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, once caricatured the split opposition as ”a two-headed snake which cannot decide which direction to take”.

Mutambara, a former student leader, has accepted that the MDC’s chances of victory were slimmer after the fall-out with their former colleagues.

”Our chances of winning the elections against Mugabe are reduced compared to our chances if we were working together,” Mutambara told journalists, while apologising ”for failing to forge a united front”.

Heneri Dzinotyiwei, a Harare-based analyst, agreed the opposition ”stood a better chance if they were united” but said they had not necessarily lost all hope as long as they trained their sights on Mugabe rather than on each other.

”The challenge is for them to focus on reaching out to the people with a uniform message of delivering them from the present unfavourable and unhappy situation and refrain from attacking each other during the campaigns,” he said. — AFP