75 political parties prepare to square up in Mugabe-less Zimbabwe election
There are 75 political parties registered to contest in the looming elections in Zimbabwe - up from 35 that existed prior to 2017.
The so-called big league has the MDC alliance‚ made up of seven political parties whose leaders Morgan Tsvangirai‚ Tendai Biti and Professor Welshman Ncube were part of the original Movement for Democratic Change that split in 2005.
They joined hands with relative minnows‚ Agrippa Mutambara of Zimbabwe People First and Jacob Ngarivhume's Transform Zimbabwe and Zanu Ndonga‚ led by Denford Musiyarira.
They are what is called the "big tent"‚ and have engaged in talks to lure former Zanu-PF stalwart Joice Mujuru with her National People's Party (NPP) for a grand coalition to unseat Zanu-PF.
This year's elections are a high stakes game. The MDC alliance feel they stand a chance because‚ according to them‚ Zanu-PF is weaker without Robert Mugabe.
"As far as we are concerned‚ E.D. [current resident Emmerson Mnangagwa] is a weaker candidate compared to Mugabe‚" said MDC deputy president Nelson Chamisa.
There is fertile ground to win hearts and minds‚ the coalition believes. Jobs are scarce‚ the economy bad‚ there is hunger and dilapidated infrastructure.
It could be a tough fight for Zanu-PF as problems mount because acute forex shortages have translated to a shortage of critical drugs such as anti-retrovirals‚ insulin‚ asthma and diabetes medication. Zimbabwe needs an estimated US$65 million weekly for drugs but treasury can only disburse US$3 million weekly.
A recent cholera outbreak that has killed at least four people could expose government's lack of disaster preparedness and play into the hands of the opposition.
Hence‚ the MDC tent claims to have a magic bullet to the country's problems. If it wins the election‚ American president Donald Trump will‚ they claim‚ come to the rescue.
"When we met with President Trump in America alongside Biti‚ he asked how much we needed to move the country forward and we told him that we needed $15-billion‚" Chamisa said at a rally in Mutare on Saturday.
He added that the US dollar windfall would only be disbursed if the MDC alliance won the election.
A Mugabe-free Zanu-PF has since resorted to engaging with the same foreign interests that the MDC relied on heavily in the past. This new approach‚ according to foreign affairs minister‚ retired general Sibisiso Busi Moyo‚ was regarded as "economic diplomacy‚ transactional diplomacy".
Despite making all the right sounds in a seemingly reformist approach‚ Tara O’Connor‚ Director of Africa Risk Consulting London‚ believes that Zanu-PF still has a long way to go before the West actually bought in.
At the same time‚ she felt that the MDC had lost considerable ground‚ largely because of its internal politics‚ but it was still the better of the two major political parties.
"I think the MDC is weak and divided and a shadow of its former self. It has suffered not just its own internal wrangling but a sustained battering by the state under Zanu-PF control. So I don’t think it (MDC) has lost the West’s support‚" she said.
In Shurugwi‚ 350km south of Harare‚ Tongai Shoko‚ a subsistence farmer‚ has bitter sweet memories of the election season. In 2013‚ candidates from across political parties resorted to vote buying using food aid at a time when an estimated four million Zimbabweans faced starvation.
"We would collect t-shirts from every party and food as well. However‚ this is Zanu PF territory and they work with chiefs to make sure they have our vote if you are not careful you can be bitten by Zanu-PF youths. Nonetheless‚ we are faced with a drought and their food can keep us alive‚" he said.
Zanu-PF's longstanding accusation is that the MDC is funded by the West‚ hence the constant reference to it as "an agent of regime change".
The state-run Herald newspaper cited unnamed sources in 2017 alleging that the coalition had the support of Western backers who were not willing to fund the MDC T alone.
Under the Political Parties Finance Act of 2001 any political party that secures at least 5% of the total votes cast is entitled to receive funding from Treasury. Based on the 2013 election results‚ only Zanu PF‚ MDC-T and MDC qualified. Last year the MDC-T said it was owed US $2-million from the fund.