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Coalition of opposition forces in Zimbabwe: Problems and Prospects

By Obert Gutu

In the history of both national and international politics, coalitions have been in existence for a very long time. Political coalitions can be traced as far back as the biblical times when the Medes and the Persians formed a coalition under Cyrus II.

Obert Gutu
Obert Gutu

After forming a political coalition, the Medo-Persian Empire managed to defeat the Babylonian Empire under Belshazzar in 539 BC.

Cyrus II was from Persia whilst Darius was from Mede. These two kings formed an opposition coalition movement to overthrow the Babylonian Empire; which was the dominant world super power at that time (Daniel 5: verses 28-31).

Political coalitions are best understood as groups of individuals and/ or organisations that come up together to achieve goals they cannot otherwise achieve single – handedly.

Coalitions by different political parties, in my submission, are usually more or less created for four reasons, that is :

(i) the opposition political parties themselves are individually weak;

(ii) the opposition political parties share the same ideology, vision and mission;

(iii) for conflict avoidance; and

(iv) because the opposition political parties share a “common enemy”.

Firstly, coalitions by opposition parties may be created because the opposition parties themselves are not, individually, strong enough to overthrow the ruling party.

Thus, forming a coalition may strengthen the parties when they want to contest against the ruling party. In the case of Zimbabwe, Zanu PF is a deeply – entrenched organisation whose tentacles spread to virtually all facets of life such as politics, business, sport, religion, the Police, the judiciary, the security services etc.

In fact, Zanu PF as a homogenous political party is virtually no longer in existence largely because of deep – rooted factionalism. This is why it is extremely difficult to distinguish between State organs and Zanu PF organs.

As part of its political mobilisation, Zanu PF routinely uses various State and quasi – State organs such as the army, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Police and key operatives in the civil service.

As a ruling party, Zanu PF has virtually no functional structures country wide but through the abuse and misuse of various organs of the State, this organisation manages to commandeer people to attend its functions and even to vote for its preferred candidates during elections.

This practice is particularly rampant in rural and peri – urban areas where Zanu PF also abuses the institution of traditional leadership in order to drive its political agenda.

Secondly, coalitions may be formed because the opposition parties share the same ideology. The opposition parties may have the same ideology and may actually have many similarities in their policies and programmes, e.g. respect for property rights and the rule of law, human rights observance and protection, respect for the principle of constitutionalism, freedom of the press, etc.

Because of these similarities and common denominators, opposition parties might then decide to form a coalition which will help them to advocate and implement their set objectives in a collective, enhanced and mutually beneficial manner.

The Jubilee Coalition between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto; that won the Presidential elections in Kenya in 2011, is a very good case in point.

Thirdly, opposition parties may enter into a coalition as a way to avoid conflict. There may be a conflict between the opposition parties and the ruling party or even opposition parties themselves may have conflicts amongst themselves.

As a way of resolving and/ or avoiding conflict(s), the opposition parties may form a coalition. When the conflict ends, however, the reason for forming the coalition falls away and the coalition may break up.

After the coalition, the conflict may not be resolved due to pressure groups in the various opposition parties who might still be causing or fostering the same conflict.

Lastly, opposition parties may form coalitions for the simple reason that they share the same ‘enemy’. In this case, there may be no similarities in the ideologies of the coalescing political parties. This is something akin to a marriage of convenience; where parties may agree to marry but they do not necessarily love one another!

There may also be no conflict and the opposition parties may be very strong in their own individual capacities. This type of coalition is usually doomed to fail from the start as the parties’ ideologies may be different making it difficult or even impossible to implement anything once they form a government. This type of coalition is usually faced with leadership disputes and challenges in the organisation of the coalition as a whole.

In 2008 several Ugandan opposition political parties formed the Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC). The IPC then adopted a Protocol committing the coalescing political parties to work together in order to break the dominance and weaken the position of the ruling National Resistance Movement Organization (NRM-O).

In the run up to the 2011 elections, the IPC adopted an Additional Protocol (2009) providing for a common electoral platform in which the opposition parties would field a single Presidential candidate to run as the opposition flag-bearer.

Not only did the IPC fail to field the Presidential candidate in the 2011 elections but one of the influential parties to the IPC, which was the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) led by Dr Olara Otunnu, pulled out of the IPC just a year before the elections.

Dr Otunnu’s reasons for pulling out of the coalition was that advocating for the change of the Electoral Commission (EC) was the main issue that had brought the parties together, and that in light of the IPC’s decision to participate in the 2011 elections under the EC existing at the time, the UPC was unable to continue working within the IPC project and process.

The 2011 Uganda elections saw the ruling party winning by a very wide margin as there was no longer any strong opposition candidate to successfully run against the ruling party; NRM-O.

The fact that two or more opposition political parties share a “common enemy” should not be the sole reason to form a coalition of opposition forces. The coalition may end up working to the advantage of the ruling party thereby defeating the whole purpose of the coalition.

If the opposition forces enter into a coalition with no similar ideology and objectives, the coalition might actually turn out to be a stillbirth. There are also issues to do with egos. You can have some otherwise lightweight political figures with inflated egos who might then want to punch above their weight.

It is, therefore, essential for the coalescing political parties to appreciate that certain political leaders and parties are bigger than others and that, therefore, the power dynamics within the coalition should be very much alive to these pertinent realities.

Opposition coalitions must have the same aims and objectives and generally similar ideologies. They must be seen to be fighting for the same cause . An opposition coalition may be useful and successful, but only when formed for good and enduring reasons and with the same end objective which should be for the betterment of the nation at large.

Selfish political agendas, grossly inflated egos, personal hatred and malice should be completely eliminated if a coalition of opposition political forces is to stand a strong chance of dislodging a deeply entrenched political system such as the Zanu PF dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

Obert Gutu is the spokesman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T). This paper was presented at a public seminar organised by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, on Thursday, September 24, 2015.