By Fungi Kwaramba
Although a staggering 23 candidates have put their names forward in a bid to lead Zimbabwe after the July 30 national elections, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa says in reality his only challenge for the country’s highest political office will come from President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
He also described the other 21 would-be kings and queens — who have filed their nomination papers to become the country’s new president after the make-or-break polls — as nothing more than “pretenders to the throne” who should put the interest of the country first and join his coalition to help dislodge the ruling Zanu PF from power.
Speaking to the Daily News on Sunday at the weekend, the youthful MDC Alliance boss, through his new spokesperson — Nkululeko Sibanda — also said he was still doing all he could to reach out to the other presidential candidates — including National Democratic Party (NDP) leader Joice Mujuru and his erstwhile colleague Thokozani Khupe.
This came after virtually all the political analysts who were canvassed by this newspaper had also said that the battle for State House at the end of next month was “a straight fight” between Chamisa and Mnangagwa — with Mujuru and Khupe being two of the few other candidates who could play the role of “party poopers” for Chamisa.
With credible recent opinion polls bolstering this view, some of the political analysts also said there was “a good chance” that the presidential poll — the first in two decades not to feature ousted strongman Robert Mugabe and his late nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai — could even be decided by a run-off.
“There is no competition here . . . the only person worth noting (in the presidential race, other than Chamisa) is Mnangagwa, others are just pretenders,” the a confident Sibanda said.
“At any rate, we still have a lot of time before the elections, and there is room to reach out to the other parties.
“I tell you, if Zanu PF members were to read our documents, they too would vote for us . . . so there is still time to change many things,” he added.
Professor of World Politics at the London School of African and Oriental Studies Stephen Chan said although the battle was between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, Khupe and Mujuru act either as “spoilers or kingmakers” if the polls went to the wire.
“It is good to have a vibrant field in these elections. However, the splinters from both of the main parties show that Zimbabwean politics are in a stage of transition, with the emergence of new forces.
“Although these will likely not impact the forthcoming elections, they may be a sign of things to come in elections of the future. However, I do see it as a straight fight between Mnangagwa and Chamisa and their respective parties,” Chan said.
Asked further if the long list of aspiring presidential candidates would not affect voting negatively, Chan said most Zimbabweans — including villagers in outlying areas — already knew where to put their Xs.
“I think voters will be able to tell who is who on the ballot sheet. I saw peasants voting on hugely complicated ballot papers in rural South Sudan. People know. They don’t need to be patronised.
“However, Khupe may prove to be as much a kingmaker as Mujuru in the parliamentary stakes. I don’t think there will be any kingmaker in the presidential stakes,” he said.
Respected University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure concurred with Chan, saying the battle for the presidency was between Chamisa, 40, and Mnangagwa, 75.
“You may have as many candidates as 23, but the electorate will choose between Mnangagwa and Chamisa. Others are just accompanying these two major presidential candidates,” he said.
Asked if there could be a run-off between the two, Masunungure said the Afrobarometer opinion poll had found that 26 percent of the people were unwilling to reveal their political preferences.
“I don’t think that the Afrobarometer survey really points out to a presidential run-off. According to this survey, Mnangagwa only needs eight percent more of the voters to win.
“In the unlikely event of a run-off, then there will be a lot of realignments, and it’s not clear at this stage who will give their vote to Mnangagwa or Chamisa . . . for instance Khupe might decide to go for ED,” Masunungure told the Daily News on Sunday.
This Afrobarometer survey gave Mnangagwa 42 percent of the vote, with Chamisa projected to get 32 percent.
International Crisis Group senior consultant Piers Pigou also said the presidential poll battle was between Mnangagwa and Chamisa, with Mujuru and Khupe likely to make little impact on the outcome.
“It is unclear how many votes the smaller party candidates will take away from either of the two main players. Survey results indicate it will be minimal, although there are still a significant number in these polls who have not disclosed their preferences.
“Mujuru is certainly unlikely to be a kingmaker . . . she leads a very small party . . . more so as other disaffected Zanu PF groupings are fielding candidates, which will work against her,” he said.
Asked how Khupe would also affect the poll outcome, Pigou said although her “support base was similarly limited”, she could split votes in some constituencies.
“It also remains to be seen if there will be significant confusion between her MDC-T and Chamisa’s MDC Alliance. The recent Afrobarometer survey indicated that there were many who were unaware of the Alliance,” he said.
Another analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said with the names of 23 presidential candidates in the hat, there were fears that Mnangagwa and Zanu PF could manipulate the voting process.
“This could make it easy for Mnangagwa to rig and win and use a divided opposition vote as a reason that some international observers would understand.
“Mujuru and Khupe are likely to be the kingmakers. As I said before, their combined numbers could do to Chamisa what Makoni did to Tsvangirai in 2008,” he said.
In 2008, Makoni — who stood as an independent candidate — supposedly garnered eight percent of the vote, with neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai credited with the critical 50 percent of the ballot plus one vote which was needed for an outright victory.
This necessitated a run-off which Tsvangirai pulled out off, amid an orgy of violence and State-sponsored murders targeted at his supporters, as well as widespread belief that the popular former trade union leader had trounced Mugabe hands down.
“However, I don’t see a presidential run-off with a rigged poll and a confused opposition that is splitting its vote,” Saungweme told the Daily News on Sunday.
Last week, garrulous former Zanu PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo revealed how Zanu PF had allegedly rigged previous elections using its close links with the State security apparatus. DailyNews