Zimbabwe- PRIME Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai is under pressure to rejuvenate his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party, with revelations he has given all elected party officials targets to register new voters ahead of make-or-break elections scheduled for next year.
The PM, still smarting from recent independent surveys which showed that President Robert Mugabe has eclipsed his popularity and trying to wriggle himself out of damaging sex scandals, is said to have admitted at the weekend that ZANU-PF was a well-oiled machine which could upset the MDC-T’s electoral chances. Sources said as a result of increasing apprehension over an electoral upset, Tsvangirai has put targets for his Senators, Members of Parliament and councillors in and around the country to register new voters as he seeks to re-invent himself and the MDC-T. The party has also roped in civil society organisations to assist with the registration of new voters, particularly the youths.
In what critics perceive as panic gripping the MDC-T camp, PM Tsvangirai has been on a whirlwind tour of his party’s political provinces since last Friday, battling to avert an implosion in the party ahead of polls President Mugabe wants held in March. The party is ravaged by intense factional fights, which have triggered defections in Matabeleland North and Mashonaland West. Uncertainty over the criteria on the conduct of primary elections to select candidates to represent the party in the next elections has also dampened morale among cadres.
Last Friday, the embattled MDC-T leader met his provincial executives in Midlands, Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North in desperate attempts to arrest the rot in the party. This week, PM Tsvangirai meets his provincial leaders from President Mugabe’s perceived strongholds of Mashonaland Central, West and East where party structures are said to be in shambles amid defections. He is expected to complete the provincial consultations by December 17, 2012, before convening the party’s last national council meetings for the year which insiders say would subsequently chart the way forward for the 2013 elections. Insiders said PM Tsvangirai was not leaving anything to chance by targeting new young voters especially those that were five years around the time of the formation of the MDC in 1999.
It is understood that during his provincial council meetings, which have largely been closed to the media, PM Tsvangirai acknowledged that the party was plagued by infighting, communication challenges, defections and general paralysis over the manner it was being administered and run.
But Tsvangirai has told the officials that he was not surprised by the anxiety over the state of the party, claiming Zimbabweans were cognisant of the fact that his brand and that of the MDC-T was the only alternative to a lethargic President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Insiders said in order to increase his chances of romping to victory PM Tsvangirai has set targets particularly in areas that were hit by voter apathy in the 2008 elections.
In Bulawayo, for instance, where the MDC-T leader swept all the 12 House of Assembly seats, only 75 000 people voted out of a total of 360 000 registered voters, with PM Tsvangirai garnering about 40 000 of the total votes cast in the presidential race. The statistics show that about 75 percent of the registered voters absconded. He has set a target of 150 000 new registered voters for Bulawayo alone.
The MDC-T leader is also said to be worried about the voter turn-out in Matabeleland North where he got 15 percent of the vote against ZANU-PF’s 30 percent. Welshman Ncube’s formation got 11 percent of the total votes cast. Information obtained by The Financial Gazette shows that about 69 percent of the registered voters in Matabeleland North did not cast their votes, a move the premier and his strategists believe cost him the presidency although the party alleges vote-rigging.
William Bango, PM Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, said it was wrong for people to conclude that the MDC-T leader was fire-fighting by meeting provincial councils. “We are trying to get the vote out,” said Bango. “We have had problems in the last election as people stayed out. The targets are meant to encourage the provincial leadership to get people out to vote. It is not about winning; he knows he is winning but it is about numbers. We are targeting people that were five years old in 1999. All elected officials have been given targets to register new voters,” he said. Bango said PM Tsvangirai was merely fulfilling his constitutional obligation as the president of the MDC-T by meeting the party’s provincial structures. “There is no panic at all. President Tsvangirai is meeting provincial councils to analyse the party’s preparedness for an election as well as to express his vision and explain the current political situation. After meeting them, the provincial officials are expected to take the message to the grassroots. We are not inventing the system, we have always done this because we are a party that does not have a media like others,” he said.
Bango claimed that among the taunted presidential candidates, including President Mugabe, PM Tsvangirai had no competition. “Once in a while you get people saying the MDC-T is imploding but let us have a look at president Tsvangirai’s competition; one is old while Welshman Ncube and Arthur Mutambara are busy fighting each other. As for Simba Makoni, he is nowhere to be found and so is Dumiso Dabengwa. As far as the party is concerned, it will take some time for any political leader in this country to torpedo Morgan Tsvangirai’s political brand,” he said.
Critics of the MDC-T leader are adamant that his perceived brand has been eroded by sex scandals, ambiguity on policy issues, hand-holding as well as his flip-flopping style of leadership. Speaking during the Masho-naland East Provincial Council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, the PM claimed the MDC-T’s contribution in government had a huge impact on Zimbabweans as no one wants to go back to the demise of 2008. “We had no experience in government but we had a plan. We introduced STERP, and the economy began to stabilise. All referral hospitals were not functional, but after three months of the MDC in government, hospitals roared into life. At Harare Hospital, they had no functional operating theatres but as soon as the MDC got into government, six operating theatres became functional. Schools did not have books and we printed 13 million textbooks so that each child had four text books and a further four million textbooks for high schools. These are just but a few of the MDC-T’s contribution in the inclusive government,” he said.
He added that the MDC got an opportunity to get experience as the party found itself in the deep end and had to learn quickly how to carry out government business. “There was nothing functional in government. Even toilets at Munhumutapa were not working,” he said. In the National Security Council meetings, PM Tsvangirai said the security service chiefs had “stiff upper lips”, but the MDC leaders, he claimed, showed them that they were in government to transact government business not to be saluted. “We had to break the barriers that were placed between the military and the people. We asked them why certain actions were taken. They would not respond at first, but (President) Mugabe would simply throw the questions back to them to get the questions answered,” said PM Tsvangirai. He added that Zimbabwe needed peace and reconciliation for it to move forward. He also mentioned that the new constitution needed to be completed as soon as possible for the nation to move forward.
The MDC-T leader has also been under-fire for agreeing to the setting-up of a three-member Cabinet task-force to finish off the new constitution.
His spat with his deputy Thokozani Khupe has not helped matters after he claimed the popular Bulawayo politician would be hauled before a disciplinary hearing over violence that rocked the party ahead of its congress last year. PM Tsvangirai then quickly moved with speed to pacify Khupe, saying she had no case to answer.