A cluster of political parties constituting the bulwark of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties have made a giant leap towards the formation of a grand coalition to confront the ruling Zanu(PF)party at the next polls in 2018.
The Financial Gazette reports that Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) leader Simba Makoni is at the forefront of the coalition talks, whose major achievement to date has been to narrow the opposition parties’ areas of conflict while working closely where they have common interests.
The cluster is presently made up of four opposition parties namely MKD, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai; ZAPU headed by Dumiso Dabengwa, and Lovemore Madhuku’s National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).
Dabengwa and Makoni broke away from Zanu(PF) in 2008 while Tsvangirai and Madhuku once worked together in the 1990s as they fought for a new constitution to replace the negotiated Lancaster House charter, which had become obsolete.
The quartet has recently been issuing joint statements on national occasions such as the Independence Day and the Workers Day, in what marked the first step towards the coalition agenda. The four parties hope to persuade the other MDC formations led by Welshman Ncube and Sekai Holland to join their cause in a bid to pose a formidable challenge to ZANU-PF, which has dominated the political space in Zimbabwe since independence 35 years ago.
Their intention is also to rope in the civic society, the church and other influential leaders to rally behind their cause.
Makoni confirmed the latest development saying the parties were cooperating on specific issues that would build familiarity, confidence and mutual trust as a basis for grand the coalition.
“I have been calling for a grand coalition for change for a long time and I spare no effort towards that end,” he said. “The four of us have agreed on a common message for independence and Workers Day and we will continue agreeing on common positions on an incremental basis. This is the basis for building a stronger, wider and more embracing cooporation. The more we work together, the closer we will be to a grand coalition or a national platform,” he added.
While the negotiations are still in their preliminary stage, the parties are upbeat about the new coalition plans.
Attempts by the MDC, ZAPU, ZANU Ndonga and MKD to form a coalition against Zanu(PF) ahead of the 2013 harmonised elections failed to amount to anything significant.
The election saw Makoni pulling out of the race for the presidency as it became clear that the coalition talks were headed nowhere as he threw his weight behind Tsvangirai.
Dabengwa also hammered out a loose alliance with Ncube which did very little to win them votes.
Soon after the 2013 synchornised elections won by Zanu(PF), there were attempts to resume the talks but these were dampened by sharp differences, especially among the MDC formations.
The MDC led by Ncube and the MDC Renewal Team under Holland have not been amenable to working with their former boss, Tsvangirai, whom they accuse of being autocratic.
They have since formed their own alliance under the title United Movement for Democratic Change, which has encountered teething problems in its early stages as leaders jostle for top posts.
In Ncube’s backyard, the MDC, the party has also been hit by a massive exodus of party leaders.
Hinting of prospects for a much broader alliance, Makoni said the coalition would embrace all “democratic leaders”.
“We are not putting barriers because the key issue is confronting the reality of a nation in leadership deficit. We are building a coalition not only of political parties but one that also embraces all leaders concerned with the welfare of Zimbabweans. It’s deeper than just taking (President Robert) Mugabe out of office,” he said.
MDC-T spokesman, Obert Gutu, also confirmed that his party was involved in the process.
He said the MDC-T will always compare notes and share ideas with slike-minded political parties and other related organisations.
“Our main focus as a party is to bring a peaceful democratic change to Zimbabwe and in the pursuit for our goals, we shall continue to collaborate and establish synergies with progressive and patriotic political formations,” he said.
ZAPU spokesperson, Mjobisa Noko, said they have decided to work together on all issues of national interest.
“Yes we can have that grand coalition. ZAPU has always said it was open to the formation of a united front involving like-minded democrats,” said Noko.
Murdoch Chivasa, the NCA spokesperson, weighed in saying the party was working together with the three.
“What we can assure you is that we are working together in areas where we agree,” he said.
Skeptics have expressed doubts that the parties could seamlessly work together given their sharp ideological and operational differences.
These differences have been the major reasons for the failure of previous coalitions against the ruling party.
A demonstration of the ideological asymmetries between them is the current debate over their participation in by-elections.
The NCA and ZAPU are taking part in the by-elections while the MDC parties have boycotted the polls over what they call an uneven electoral field.
Another potentially contentious issue is that of who the parties would elect to head the coalition.