Zimbabwe: PM Whips Into Line National Executive Over Primaries

PRIME Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai has whipped his national executive into endorsing a controversial decision not to subject incumbents to primary elections as the issue of internal polls to select officials to stand on a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) ticket continues to haunt the party into the New Year.

The MDC-T national executive met in Harare on Tuesday, a day before PM Tsvangirai convened the last meeting of his national council for 2012. While the national council was yet to announce its final decision yesterday, impeccable party sources said the party's highest decision-making body would rubberstamp the decision of the national executive to shield sitting Members of Parliament and senators from being challenged by other aspirants.

The same sources said the agenda to "save" sitting officials under threat from "Young Turks" in the MDC-T was being driven by the standing committee of the party.

There has been discontent in the party over moves by top MDC-T officials to avoid primaries ahead of the polls expected next year.

The party's constitution stipulates that a sitting MP requires a two-thirds confirmation from party members in his/her constituency to avoid a primary election.

"The national executive was whipped into line yesterday (Tuesday). This agenda is being pushed by the standing committee of the party. There are senior people in the standing committee who fear that they may lose if primary elections are held," said an MDC-T insider.

"The claim that sitting MPs would be confirmed by an assembly is a travesty of democracy. If the party wants to uphold its democratic ethos then every bona fide member should stand a chance to challenge for any position. I fear that if they are to go against wise counsel and fail to hold genuine primary elections then this will leave the party deeply fractured. The party has not even recovered from post-congress wounds and then the leadership wants to cause more divisions by stifling ambition and talent," added the source.

Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T national spokesperson, was not immediately available for comment on the issue of primaries as he was said to be locked in the national council meeting at Harvest House.

But sources said the primary election guidelines and selection of candidates dominated the national executive meeting on Tuesday where officials were ordered to endorse the decision not to subject incumbents to primaries.

The national council was yesterday expected to come up with a date for the primary elections.

Analysts say the MDC-T must be guided by its constitution regarding primary elections.

"If the party wants to change those guidelines then the democratic procedure is to do it through a constitutional amendment rather than ad hoc changes. The challenge is that such issues have been in the constitution and were not challenged at congress; it is unprocedural to then try and force changes without the requisite process of proposing constitutional amendments. So the MDC-T should thus stick to constitutions guidelines without reservation," said Trevor Maisiri, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Maisiri predicted the party would face challenges in trying to stick to the stipulation of allowing only those members who have held cards for five years to contest in primary elections.

"The party has had a lot of new members within the last five years. Being a relatively new party in the history of the country, the five year threshold is rather too restrictive given the party's fast evolution.

"However, if the party is to do away with that restriction it must also be done through a democratic process which must not be construed as top-down imposition," he added.

The controversy over primary elections comes as it emerged that the MDC-T in the Midlands South Province has once again been seized with serious jockeying for parliamentary seats, which has degenerated into factionalism ahead of the labour-backed party's primary elections whose date is yet to be announced.

Three factions have emerged that is the traditional factions -- the Masowe led by Sesel Zvidzai, Jatropha led by Mkoba lawmaker, Amos Chibaya -- and a new faction led by party returnee and Gweru businessman, Timothy Mukhahlera.

Factionalism was the labour party's main undoing in the 2008 harmonised elections after the party lost some seats to ZANU-PF it could have easily won after it contested the elections with parallel candidates, which gave an advantage to the latter.

In the 2008 elections, the party fielded at least two candidates in 11 of the 27 House of Assembly constituencies in the province due to factionalism pitting a group led by Gweru businessman Patrick Kombayi (now late) and another led by Zvidzai.

Even calls for unity ahead of the polls by party leader PM Tsvangirai who was in Gweru two weeks ago have fallen on deaf ears.

Insiders declared this week that the 2008 ghost was likely to come back and haunt the party if no corrective measures are immediately taken.

The party's provincial youth executive has also come into the fray, saying it will support young candidates in all the constituencies in the province.

Chibaya and Zvidzai, the party's secretary of local governance, have both in the past denied the existence of factions.

Mukhahlera, when contacted for comment this week also refuted claims that he is leading a new faction but said he was part of a group of neutrals who either belong to Masowe or Jatropha factions.

He said: "You cannot call it a faction because that would be inappropriate but we are just a group of neutrals who have become tired of the factionalism happening in the province with a common goal of saving the party."

Gweru Urban Constituency has become the epicentre of the factional fighting where the incumbent Rodrick Rutsvara, who belongs to the Chibaya-led faction, has expressed interest in retaining the seat.

Zvidzai and Mukhahlera's son Nyasha, who belongs to his father's faction, have also openly shown interest in contesting the seat.

"It's more to do with people wanting me to come on board with new ideas, probably after having seen my contribution in the party since its formation. People now want new blood and new ideas and it is within me to reclaim the seat and bring the past glory of early 2000.

"My support base is quite big, considering the fact that my father has a good reputation and that the youths are firmly behind me," said Nyasha Mukhahlera.

Zvidzai said people might want new people to look after their interest but the party was disappointed by the behaviour of the youths, alleging they have not been transparent and representative enough in their dealings in the past five years.

"What we need in the party is an open, accountable and transparent leadership particularly in the face of transfers of money to Members of Parliament through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF)," said Zvidzai who is playing the CDF card against Rutsvara who was one of the lawmakers who were once fingered in the misappropriation of the funds.

Other constituencies where there is scramble for seats are Chiwundura and Mkoba.

While also trying to ensure that his son clinched the right to represent the party in Gweru Urban, Mukhahlera is said to be interested in Chiwundura, pitting him against the MDC-T provincial youth treasurer, Livingstone Chiminya who belongs to the Chibaya-led faction.

Chiminya has publicly said he will contest the constituency. Obert Tachi Ncube, a personal friend to Zvidzai and the party's provincial director of elections, is also said to be the preferred candidate of the Zvidzai grouping.

Zvidzai is also reportedly funding clergyman Pastor Douglas Mambure to unseat incumbent legislator Chibaya in Mkoba constituency while provincial spokesperson James Tsuro, a close ally of Mukhahlera, is also said to be in the running for the post.

Additional Reporting by Gweru Correspondent.

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