Harare — Last Sunday's MDC-T provincial elections in Chitungwiza gave Zimbabweans a foretaste of what to expect at the party's national congress due next year.
Zengeza East legislator Mr Alexio Musundire, sprung a surprise to beat Chitungwiza Senator James Makore and three others to land the province's top post. What is more intriguing is that Mr Makore, a close ally of MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and said to be his blue-eyed boy from their days at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was last month the favourite to land the post.
He was riding on the back of the ban imposed on Mr Musundire and former chairperson, Mr Martin Magaya, from contesting the polls. But in a dramatic turn of events, MDC-T secretary-general Mr Tendai Biti wrote a letter rescinding an earlier decision barring Mr Musundire and the Magaya-led executive from taking part in the race.
The party's organising committee, led by Engineer Elias Mudzuri, gave the green light to Mr Musundire to contest the polls, a gesture party insiders say is a rare unison of mind between the organising secretary and his secretary-general. Last month, Mr Biti wrote to the Magaya-led executive advising them that they were not eligible to contest the polls. This was after their suspension for allegedly failing to reign in former Chitungwiza mayor Israel Marange.
But in an about turn, Mr Biti wrote another letter saying they were free to contest if they so desired. Party insiders who spoke to The Herald this week have seen the gesture allowing Mr Musundire to contest as a way to elbow out Mr Makore ahead of the congress next year. Mr Musundire is viewed as an ally of Mr Biti and wields a lot of influence in the party because of that. According to the party's constitution, the provincial executive constitutes an integral element at the congress where national leaders are elected.
"This looks like a strategy to clip the wings of people aligned to Mr Tsvangirai who have been on the ascendancy. "In particular, it appears there are attempts to sideline people like Mr Makore because they don't want him to have constitutional influence by the time the congress starts," one insider said. Contacted for comment on Tuesday, Eng Mudzuri said the Chitungwiza polls were conducted above board and dismissed claims that the playing field was tilted in favour of some candidates.
"I do not even know who is affiliated to who, that is if there is any affiliation to talk about. "Before the election started, I asked everyone present if they were happy with the set up and I did not receive any complaints - tell me who is making those allegations?" Asked why the party rescinded an earlier decision to ban suspended officials from contesting, Eng Mudzuri said they had found it prudent to clear them in "the name of democracy".
"We wanted to give all people a fair chance of contesting the election. I am one of the fairest people. "We did not want to exclude people on the basis of unproven allegations. There is nothing like manoeuvering by anyone as is alleged," he said. In his letter overturning his earlier decision to ban the officials, Mr Biti warned them to behave well during the elections.
"I am pleased to advise that the National Standing Committee in its meeting of July 27th 2010 upheld your appeal and will now allow each one of you to participate in the election now scheduled for the August 15 2010," wrote Mr Biti. He said that the decision to allow them to contest was subject to strict conditions. "None of you shall be engaged in violence, intimidation or duress and that the commission of these acts will result in automatic disqualification.
"No one shall engage in rowdy disruptive behaviour. In particular no one shall attempt to disrupt the scheduled provincial election. "I trust that each one of you shall behave accordingly with the decorum befitting of provincial leaders," said Mr Biti. The next MDC-T congress is elective and expected to come up with a new leadership for the party.
Mr Tsvangirai will have served his constitutional two terms as party president and there is an attempt to amend the constitution to let him lead again. This has seen the Matabeleland provinces reportedly saying Mr Tsvangirai should continue at the helm. However, there is a strong lobby opposed to him and insiders claim there is an attempt to position Mr Biti as the party president.
"This is where the significance of the provincial elections lies. Everyone wants to position themselves appropriately ahead of the congress. "It is quite interesting that Mr Biti is the one who wrote to the suspended guys telling them they could contest. "The green light resulted in Mr Tsvangirai's allies losing out in the race," a source said.
There have long been indications that Mr Biti is himself not opposed to the idea of taking over from Mr Tsvangirai, but will not campaign openly for the party presidency.