11 January 2018

Zimbabwe: Mugabe, Tsvangirai Off Ballot for First Time in Decades?

ZIMBABWE is set to have its first elections in nearly two decades without veteran politicians, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the two men whose epic duels have for years reduced other political leaders and their parties to mere spectators.

This follows the shock ouster of Mugabe by the military and his ZANU-PF party, and the mooted retirement of his arch rival, Tsvangirai, on health grounds.

ZANU-PF dismissed Mugabe as leader in November last year after the veteran ruler lost control of his party following his decision to fire his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa's ejection from both party and government back-fired when the military stepped in and sided with the dismissed vice-president. The military intervention resulted in a severely compromised Mugabe being cornered through an impeachment process, which was later aborted after he resigned while the two chambers of Parliament were sitting to get rid of him.

Mugabe and his wife, Grace, had earlier been dismissed from the ruling party.

This paved way for Mnangagwa to take over as the leader of both ZANU-PF and the country.

Tsvangirai, who has been battling an aggressive cancer of the colon since last year, this week hinted on the possibility of him stepping down as the leader of the MDC-T.

"I am looking at the imminent prospects of us as the older generation leaving the levers of leadership to allow the younger generation to take forward this huge task that we started together so many years ago with our full blessing and support," Tsvangirai said in his new year's message released this week.

"It was therefore not by accident, but by design that when I disclosed to you my health status, I also took a bold step to appoint an additional two vice presidents to assist me," the former trade unionist said.

The revelation by Tsvangirai has resulted in serious jostling within his party as members of the party seek to position any one of his three deputies: Thokozani Khupe, Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa, to take over the reins of the main opposition party.

The developments would see the harmonised elections set later for this year being held for the first time without the two faces that have dominated the Zimbabwean political landscape since 2000 when Tsvangirai and his then newly formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party nearly snatched victory from Mugabe and his party in elections held in June of that year.

Tsvangirai was to give Mugabe a good run for his money in the 2002 presidential elections, coming second in a ballot race whose fairness was to become subject of fierce debate for years.

In the March 29, 2008 harmonised election, Mugabe lost the presidential vote to Tsvangirai, although official results -- believed to have been doctored in the five weeks it took to release them -- showed that the opposition leader had not scored more than 50 percent of the votes as required by the Constitution to be declared an outright winner.

This resulted in a run-off poll that Tsvangirai pulled out of, citing violence against members of his party and its supporters.

The resultant political stalemate was only resolved through a power-sharing deal brokered by the Southern African Development Community resulting in the two politicians sharing power -- though unevenly -- between 2009 and 2013. In the 2013 election, Mugabe and his party won and ruled until his forced resignation.

While it is clear that Mnangagwa will front ZANU-PF, it is yet to be seen who the MDC-T, which has a coalition agreement with other political parties, would choose as candidates in the next elections.

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