New MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa — who had his work cut out when he succeeded the late popular opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai earlier this year — is confounding his critics, holding his own where many expected him to be a dismal failure and packing venues to the rafters when he addresses his supporters.
What has particularly impressed friends and foes alike over the past few weeks is the fact that his high-octane campaign stumps nationally and abroad are gathering steam despite the ugly leadership dispute which threatened to floor the MDC after Tsvangirai lost his brave fight against colon cancer last February.
Both political analysts and leading opposition figures who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said although this year’s looming national elections had attracted a large field, there was no doubt that the presidential poll would be “a straight fight” between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the youthful lawyer.
Other observers pointed to the intense scrutiny and the serious savaging that he is getting from both known critics and social media bots — now popularly referred to as “varakashi” (online thugs) — as a measure of the impact that the the 40 year-old is having on the political stage.
It has also not done Chamisa any harm that he has been drawing huge crowds at his rallies in supposed Zanu PF strongholds, which were a no-go area for the opposition during the dictatorial reign of former president Robert Mugabe. Even his recent campaign stumps in the United Kingdom drew significant crowds.
Former Cabinet minister during the era of the inclusive government, David Coltart — who accompanied Chamisa to the UK, is among those who feels that Chamisa, the leader of the MDC Alliance, has rattled Zanu PF and Mnangagwa’s government.
“The amount of abuse being directed his way shows how much of a threat he poses to a de facto military regime which has a long and bloody history of murdering, torturing and brutalising its opponents.
“Despite all of this, he is bravely campaigning and at the core of his message is non-violence. He is the only leader campaigning countrywide at present, drawing thousands of people these rallies in both rural and urban areas,” Coltart says.
“Of course, Nelson Chamisa has faults. All of us do. Of course he has made mistakes in some of his pronouncements — all of us have done so in our own political careers. None of is perfect, but at this moment in our history we cannot let perfection be the enemy of the good.
“Notwithstanding these human flaws and the quality of some of the other presidential candidates, Chamisa is the only competent person who realistically stands between ongoing de facto military rule and a new dawn for Zimbabwe.
“Everything else is simply pie in the sky. That is the harsh reality all those who dream of a new, vibrant, tolerant and free Zimbabwe need to confront,” he adds.
On his part, former Finance minister Tendai Biti said yesterday that he was “very confident” that Chamisa would emerge victorious against Mnangagwa, “as long as elections were free and fair”.
“This is a no brainer because we will win this election hands down … the MDC Alliance president is a winner and that is why the regime is now panicking and that is why you see these extra-legal moves around the printing of the ballot paper which they don’t want to be transparent.
“They know their time is up, that it is a time for the Alliance, the time for Chamisa. The UK trip was an overwhelming success and we managed to get into some offices the regime never imagined we could have accessed, and we managed to change the false narrative that they have been peddling,” Biti told the Daily NewsOn Sunday.
“They are now running scared and that is why you see all the shenanigans around the inspection of the voters’ roll. How do you give two weeks to inspect a roll that took two months to establish?
“It is now clear that they are up to no good, but they will not be the first people with the ability to stop an idea whose time has clearly come,” Biti added.
Among the Zanu PF politicians whose attention Chamisa has caught is Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who told ruling party supporters at the former liberation movement’s recent manifesto launch in Harare that Chamisa was “a juvenile in politics”.
Political analysts said such attacks were because Chamisa had so far demonstrated that he would pose the greatest threat to Mnangagwa’s election bid in this year’s keenly-anticipated presidential election.
Respected University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Chamisa’s political stock was “definitely rising”.
“it is indisputable that Chamisa’s graph is fast rising. His chances have increased dramatically more than they were when he became the MDC leader, because he has been well received both locally and internationally.
“The government has taken acute notice of that development hence the attempts by people such as Chiwenga to rubbish him. But the reality is that in terms of how he has been received so far, he is way ahead of many of his rivals,” he said.
However, Masunugure was quick to warn that crowd sizes at rallies were “a less-than-complete tool” to assess candidates’ chances of winning an election.
“The question is whether the crowds are registered voters and if they are, will they go out to vote and if they do, will they vote for him — because some might just be coming to get a feel of who this Chamisa boy is. So, the verdict at this point in time can be difficult to pass,” he said.
Another political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, also said Chamisa was “a real threat to Zanu PF” and could win the elections if the electoral field was level.
“Forget about his gaffes. He has a huge following of young and old who want change and who see him as representing their hopes. However, our electoral playing field is uneven and he at risk of being rigged out.
“Without reforms, no opposition can unseat the military regime in power. They have already started rigging … and they will rig the polls during voting, at tabulation and at the announcement of the results,” Saungweme claimed further.
The looming national elections have generated such interest among both ordinary Zimbabweans and ambitious politicians alike that a number of opposition leaders are set to contest Mnangagwa in the presidential plebiscite.
The polls themselves will be the first in the past two decades not to feature Mugabe and the late Tsvangirai. Daily News