ZIMBABWE is bracing itself for crucial elections this year and once again the battle for supremacy is likely to be between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF and the MDC-T, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's, although Welshman Ncube's MDC may snatch enough seats to have a say on how the country is governed for the next five years.
The polls, which President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party insist will be in March although the MDC formations and other political players believe the deadline is unrealistic, would bring to an end the inclusive government's acrimony-riddled tenure.
The inclusive government has been dominated by endless squabbles which resulted in the MDC-T threatening to pull out in October 2009 over the non-implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
Some of the provisions of the GPA are still to be implemented while constant bickering over the constitution-making process, one of the key signposts for elections, has resulted in a three-year delay.
According to the GPA the constitution-making process should have been completed in 18 months, but has limped on with little hope of completion since 2009.
There seems to be a realisation or a reluctant acceptance by the MDC formations that Zanu PF would not fully honour the GPA, and some issues would have to be addressed by the next government.
In any case, elections are also constitutionally due this year, leaving the parties with little choice but to go for polls.
The political parties are increasingly in election mode as evidenced by the intensifying campaigns going on countrywide despite the fact that the parties are still to hold their primary elections.
Zanu PF has been campaigning through Mugabe's presidential inputs scheme and the economic empowerment and indigenisation programme, while a host of party supporters who wish to stand on the party's ticket are going around campaigning and donating all sorts of goodies amid charges of brazen vote-buying.
The MDC-T is preparing for its primaries and candidate-confirmation process. Potential candidates from the party have also been campaigning.
Ncube has been holding rallies almost every weekend while his team has been very active on the social media scene, canvasing for support.
For the first time since Independence, Zanu PF lost its parliamentary majority in the 2008 harmonised polls while Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential polls to Tsvangirai.
He was rescued by the military, which embarked on a brutal and bloody campaign to intimidate the electorate ahead of the June 27 presidential election runoff.
The battle for the presidency is expected to be between Mugabe and Tsvangirai once again.
Mugabe is still riding on his and Zanu PF's liberation war credentials which he has always bragged about in the run-up to previous elections, but which, alone, can no longer assure him of sufficient votes from a hard-pressed electorate which wants bread-and-butter issues addressed.
The role the veteran ruler and his Zanu PF peers played during the war is however widely respected and revered in some quarters to the extent some voters would sympathise or identify with him regardless of circumstances. He is widely seen as a symbol of the fight against imperialism, but it remains to be seen if his controversial empowerment programme will sway the vote in his favour.
Mugabe and Zanu PF's biggest problem is the veteran leader's age. He is turning 89 next month and has clearly been slowed down by old age and ill-health.
Even high ranking Zanu PF officials are not sure he would be able to withstand the rigours of a presidential campaign, but have not been bold enough to ask him to step aside.
At 89, Mugabe surely does not represent the future and Zanu PF may pay dearly for its failure to choose someone to succeed him.
The party has also been in power for too long, analysts say, and is blamed for running down a once thriving economy, although Zanu PF insists sanctions are the major cause.
Zanu PF would be going into the elections divided by its failure to solve the succession issue, which has resulted in extensive factionalism.
The party has been divided into two large camps, one allegedly led by Vice -President Joice Mujuru and the other by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The entry of the MDC formations into the coalition government is viewed as one of the reasons why the economy has somewhat stabilised and that could be a plus for them going into the elections.
MDC-T could cash-in and get a majority. The party has come up with an ambitious economic policy, Jobs Upliftment Investment Capital and the Environment (Juice) and it remains to be seen how the electorate will warm to it.
Corruption allegations and Tsvangirai's personal indiscretions may, however, sway some voters against the party.
The MDC-T is also sharply divided over the selection criteria of candidates with the leadership insisting on the confirmation of sitting MPs while the grassroots are demanding open primaries.
The confirmation criteria is seen as a ploy by the party's leadership to ring-fence their seats but this has created discontent which may work against the performance of the party in the polls.
It would be a miracle if Ncube's MDC wins the presidential election or secures a parliamentary majority, but the party's best bet would be to secure as many seats as possible in Matabeleland.
The party's biggest drawback is the belief in some circles that it is pushing a tribal agenda, an allegation vehemently denied by Ncube and his backers.