Harare — The two MDC formations, Zapu and Mavambo have struck a panicky electoral alliance, pushed by the US, to improve their chances against Zanu-PF in the harmonised elections at the end of this month, sources close to the parties said on Friday.
Washington, worried by the poor electoral chances of the four parties, hatched the plan for the grand alliance and presented it to them, fait accompli, through a neighbouring country sympathetic to some officials of the parties in the coalition.
Under the deal, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai becomes the sole presidential candidate, the party's secretary-general Tendai Biti first vice president, and MDC-N leader Welshman Ncube the second vice president.
The sources said the coalition was finalised on Thursday, and was due to be simultaneously announced by Tsvangirai and Mavambo leader Simba Makoni in Harare, and Ncube and Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa in Bulawayo around mid-day on Friday.
It follows a series of shuttle meetings in Harare and Bulawayo by representatives of the neighbouring country running on behalf of the US.
Up until now, the parties - particularly Ncube's MDC - were reluctant to forge an electoral alliance due to personal political ambitions of the leaders, and differing ideologies.
But sources said they were "whipped into line" by the US and the neighbouring country, both worried the parties stood little chance of defeating Zanu-PF in the July 31, 2013 elections.
Several local, regional and international polling agencies have predicted a Zanu-PF victory in the elections, with voters attracted by the party's broad-based economic empowerment policies such as land reforms and indigenization which have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
The sources said the announcement of the grand coalition was timed to "lift up the spirits" among the parties following Tsvangirai and Ncube's failure to delay the poll.
The Constitutional Court on Thursday dismissed applications by the two to delay the poll, a judgment which dealt a psychological blow to their parties ahead of the election.
The timing was also meant to "steal the thunder" from Zanu-PF's launch of its election manifesto today at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield.
But analysts said the coalition created more problems for the parties involved, than it solved.
The most pertinent of these is how to select prospective legislators to be withdrawn from the July 31 election race, and how to manage the subsequent fallout.
This also includes managing the bruised egos of some of the top leaders of the parties, most of whom are avowed ideological and professional foes.
For instance, the sources said, Ncube only grudgingly accepted the second vice presidency in the coalition, having originally preferred to be ahead of Biti as was the case in the MDC before the party split into two.
The two, both lawyers, also harbour professional jealousies believed to have driven the parties further apart since the 2005 split.
Ncube is also believed to have sour relations with MDC-T vice president Thokozani Khupe, who has been dropped completely from the presidency in the coalition, over the Makokoba constituency.
"This is a panicky alliance cobbled together through the spirited efforts of the Americans and other players from outside, and nothing ideological or otherwise holds the parties together," a political analyst, who declined to be named, said.
"It cements the parties' puppet image among voters, and the alliance is a mere parody of the 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu," he said.
Unlike the members of the MDC-T led alliance, Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu shared the same liberation war background and ideology, having fought jointly to free the country from colonial rule.
The alliance, analysts said, also creates a perception problem among the parties' supporters who until now had been told the coalition had collapsed.
"Campaigning is at an advanced stage, and these leaders have been telling their voters to vote for their individual parties, only for them to now change and say something else. This creates a serious perception problem among voters," said the analyst.
"This is a reaction to the legal setback in the Constitutional Court, and the parties are scrambling to find anything that could possibly salvage their threatened political careers," he said.
A top political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe said this election is being fought on substance, and not emotion as was the case in 2008, and the grand coalition had nothing to counter offer to ZANU-PF's successful empowerment agenda.
Zanu-PF spearheaded land reforms in 2000 under which nearly 400 000 formerly landless blacks were resettled on farms taken from white farmers, and is now pushing for indigenization, especially in the mining sector.
Several rural communities surrounding mines have already been made shareholders in the mining ventures in their areas, something that has transformed the communities.
This, the University of Zimbabwe lecturer noted, is what the coalition has to match if it is to beat Zanu-PF in the harmonised elections.
"It is a tall order. Merely coming together is no substance. They have to find the substance which the electorate can buy into," he said.