THIRTEEN years ago, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) stormed onto Zimbabwe's political scene and was hailed as an alternative to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, which had been in power for close to two decades at that time.
By then, ZANU-PF had lost its revolutionary appeal among the masses who had become disillusioned with rising cases of looting and corruption by its officials.
The troubles denting the revolutionary party had peaked in the late 1980's with the explosion of the Willowgate scandal whereby ZANU-PF officials were selling vehicles from Willowvale at inflated prices.
By 1999, rising unemployment and the escalating cost of living fuelled labour unrests led by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, which worsened an already tense situation.
This led to violent crackdowns sanctioned by the ZANU-PF led government against critics opposed to its rule.
Out of these circumstances, emerged the MDC which promised to put an end to ZANU-PF's rule and domination.
The MDC's election mantra of "change" was spot on and strongly resonated with private businesses, labour unions, commercial famers, civil society organisations and even the ordinary man on the street, eager for change.
But 13 years later and on the eve of yet another election, the MDC is still to accomplish what it set out to achieve in 1999.
Different schools of thought have emerged on whether the party is still capable of dislodging President Mugabe from power.
Although much older now than when the duel with arch-rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai started in 1999, President Mugabe is showing no signs of letting up in the fight to control the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans even in his sunset years.
The MDC first stumbled after its split in 2005, which greatly weakened its challenge against ZANU-PF.
After the split, popular support went with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T formation.
Come the 2008 harmonised elections which produced a hung Parliament, both the MDC formations were forced into a coalition government with ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai had won the first round of voting but could not garner the requisite threshold of votes to be declared the winner. The run-off that followed was declared a sham in the sense that President Mugabe had to compete alone after the MDC-T leader pulled out citing systematic violence against his supporters.
After joining the inclusive government, the MDC-T's fortunes started declining.
First, the party went into the coalition government as a junior partner, with no real power.
Secondly, its officials started enjoying the trappings of power thereby disconnecting themselves from the masses.
Three surveys conducted by Freedom House, Afrobaro-meter and Zimbabwe Vigil all confirmed ZANU-PF's resilience and the MDC-T's loss of flair among Zimbabwean voters, although none have dared rule the party out completely.
But to all intents and purposes, the next election will remain a two-horse race between ZANU-PF and the MDC-T formation.
Consequently, this has begged the question; where will the new political parties fit in during Zimbabwe's next election?
Several political parties and presidential hopefuls have emerged in the past decade and are all jostling to fill in a void they argue exists in the country's political landscape.
Welshman Ncube is the leader of the smaller MDC party, Dumiso Dabengwa heads ZAPU, Simba Makoni leads Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD), Paul Siwela's Mthwakazi Liberation Front and Job Sikhala leads MDC99 party.
Unconfirmed media reports suggest that businessman; Mutumwa Mawere also harbours presidential ambitions, while academic Raymond Chamba has declared his intention to run in the next election.
With the emergence of all these new political contenders, what is evident for the MDC-T which used to enjoy virtual dominance in 1999 is that the smaller political parties are out to chink at its political influence.
Afrobarometer, in its latest report titled; Voting Intentions in Zimbabwe: A Margin of Terror?; makes an interesting observation and notes that, "Zimbabwe possesses a two-party system. No minor political party, including Ncube's MDC, ZAPU or MKD can boast more than one percent support from the electorate. But these parties are relevant to political outcomes in the event of an extremely close election, when they might hold a balance of power".
But political analyst, Charles Mangongera, offered a different point of view and ruled out any major upset in the next elections.
He said the nature of Zimbabwean politics is such that smaller parties and independent candidates fair badly in elections. Even if they were to form an electoral coalition they would not gain any significant proportion of the vote.
"Most of them will become extinct after the next elections and the key political gladiators driving them will join either ZANU-PF or the MDC-T. If not, they will go into political obscurity", he said.
Trevor Maisiri of the International Crisis Group, said the smaller political parties are likely to make an impact in Matabeleland.
"If you look at ZAPU and the MDC led by Ncube their focus seems mainly to be in Matabeleland. I am sure they will pick up a sizeable number of seats there," said Maisiri.
It would, however, appear that the number of seats may only serve to create a three dimensional political presence in Parliament besides the main rivals; ZANU-PF and the MDC-T.
That may not outrightly have significance in the ZANU-PF and MDC-T dominance of the election.
While political parties remain slugged in a war of words and deriving different interpretations from the surveys, what has become increasingly clear is that the next election will be a fight to the very end and could, in fact, eclipse the March 2008 encounter between President Mugabe and the Prime Minister.