THE harmonised elections to be held next year present Zimbabweans with a unique opportunity to once and for all discard Zanu PF and its leadership to the dustbin of history.
However, it is not just about removing President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, but rather removing the system and uprooting a political culture that has brought the country to its knees through official political gangsterism and a rogue vampire state that has devoured its citizens.
Critically, it would be naive and suicidal for any political party to think it can achieve electoral success without support from other political players. In a situation like this, broad consensus and mass mobilisation are critical to removing Mugabe and Zanu PF.
While MDC-T remains the biggest threat to Mugabe and Zanu PF, the resurgence of Welshman Ncube's MDC, especially in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, will be a factor in determining the overall outcome.
Likewise, the possibility of Dumiso Dabengwa's Zapu seizing some Zanu PF votes in its strongholds remains a possibility which may ultimately help the broader progressive movement. Dabengwa's party may erode Zanu PF's residual support base mainly in Matabeleland.
Admittedly, both Simba Makoni's Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and Dabengwa's Zapu seem to have almost faded into political oblivion, but as the late Professor Masipula Sithole used to declare "all things are possible in politics and religion". So you cannot write them off completely.
In this vein, electoral pacts or alliances are likely to be formed, or rather should be formed, to ensure that Mugabe's Zanu PF is defeated. Outside of this framework, we may wake up to the reality and shock of yet another Zanu PF victory by fair or foul means this time even without recourse to violence, but due to the fragmentation of contesting political parties.
MDC and Zapu alliance
Zapu, led by Dabengwa, and Ncube's MDC will need to form an electoral alliance since they are likely to fish from the same electoral pond. They are likely to draw a lot of support from the Matabeleland and Midlands regions, given their support base and focus.
However, Ncube's MDC appears to have an upper hand since it also appeals to the younger generation with its information and media-savvy strategies and multifaceted stakeholder engagement approach. Zapu is likely to appeal to the older generation of its forerunner's supporters and disgruntled Zanu PF followers who may consider a move to any of the MDCs uncharacteristic and too radical.
The two parties may have different historical and ideological backgrounds, but converge on devolution of power and are also assertive on attendant issues.
They are thus likely to find common ground because of this and may decide to form an alliance against Zanu PF and MDC-T, mainly in Matabeleland.
The two are unlikely to win any seats outside Matabeleland and neither is likely to win the presidential election. However, both will be critical in determining the outcome of the presidential election as the frontrunners, Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai may not be able to get a sufficient majority to win in the first round of voting. In other words, we may once again go to a run-off in which case the MDC and Zapu might play a decisive role.
If the Freedom House survey is anything to go by, MDC-T will definitely need every vote due to Zanu PF's resurgence. Fringe parties such as Paul Siwela's Matabeleland Liberation Front and other small parties should not be ignored in the equation as they may not have much in terms of votes, but their voice is critical in backing a common candidate or common candidates. They may be useful in consolidating political legitimacy of a candidate in the presidential election.
MDC-T and Zanu Ndonga alliance
This alliance is likely to be formalised as there are already indications that the MDC-T is courting Zanu Ndonga. Recent events show this.
However, the MDC-T is quite established in the former Zanu Ndonga strongholds of Chipinge, but may just need to make sure it forms a strategic alliance with the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole's party which once created an impenetrable fortress in Chipinge. This alliance is important for the MDC-T in terms of consolidation, but will not make any significant change on the electoral landscape.
MDC-T and MDC alliance
An alliance between these two parties is absolutely essential and the absence of such an arrangement could be suicidal to both as Zanu PF will benefit from their divided votes emanating from their unproductive rivalry. Such an electoral pact may take the shape of the two parties agreeing on who to field as council and parliamentary candidates and fielding one presidential candidate. They can work a serious and realistic formula of sharing the spoils, mainly in Matabeleland where they are almost certain to divide votes to Mugabe and Zanu PF's advantage.
The two should identify the best candidates to stand at ward, constituency and senatorial levels and even consider able and competent people who may not be part of their parties, but who may have the credentials to make good legislators.
While this is the most desirable scenario, it may be scuttled by the stampede for parliamentary seats, positions and the desire to prove who is in charge on the ground. The initiative may also face resistance from those in the lower levels who want to rise and might be affected by an alliance.
Paradoxically, the key to this electoral alliance depends on the political will of politicians from Matabeleland as they stand to gain or lose more than politicians in other parts of the country. This is because Matabeleland will be the most heavily-contested and potentially decisive region with MDC-T, MDC, Zanu PF and Zapu, all staking a strong claim in the area unlike in other parts of the country where it may be a two-horse contest between the two biggest parties, MDC-T and Zanu PF.
The reality is either Zanu PF or MDC-T are most likely to produce the next president after the forthcoming elections, although the MDC led by Ncube may play a critical kingmaker role by deciding who wins since they may potentially garner up to 10% of the vote. The first round of the 2008 election showed that Mugabe and Tsvangirai may not be in a position to win over each other by a required majority.
Indeed, the performance of Makoni, who was backed by Ncube, his MDC and Dabengwa, in which he got 8% shows the gap may grow to 10% depending on whether Makoni and Ncube come up with a working arrangement in the presidential election.
If Ncube and Makoni form an alliance at the presidential election level, this means neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai are likely to win the required majority -- 50% plus one vote.
If Makoni and Ncube are politically astute, they would work out a formula for avoiding splitting votes to ensure there is a reasonably strong third candidate -- the kingmaker -- in the presidential election.
In this this case, it will then become necessary for MDC-T to negotiate with MDC now or risk a Zanu PF electoral victory in the presidential or even parliamentary elections due to the division of votes. This is a serious issue which deserves urgent attention.
Chances of a hung parliament or a parliament in which no political party has a working majority remains quite high with a possibility of both Zanu PF and MDC-T requiring the support of MDC led by Ncube to swing it. Although it is still possible for MDC-T to win a majority, ignoring the issue of alliances could prove politically fatal. Ncube's MDC might actually hold the balance as it did in 2008.
If the party continues its current consolidation and revival, it might prove to be the decisive factor in the next elections, ushering in a three-party political system in which alliances may be inevitable and necessary going forward.
l Nkomo is Habakkuk Trust CEO and spokesperson of the Matabeleland Civil Society Forum. He writes here in his personal capacity.