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Zimbabwe opposition mulls future without founder Tsvangirai

MDC leader is battling colon cancer, has hinted at retirement.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, is in a quandary over whether its long-serving leader and founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who’s undergoing treatment for colon cancer, should retire before this year’s elections.

While Tsvangirai, 65, has appeared increasingly frail, he remains the party’s most-popular official and his absence from the ballot could undermine its campaign. The MDC will be up against the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, which toppled Robert Mugabe as its leader and the nation’s president two months ago and replaced him with his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Tsvangirai’s departure would leave a “huge void” in the MDC, according to Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute in the capital, Harare.

“He’s become the face and the voice of opposition to the authoritarian regime of Robert Mugabe,” Mukundu said by phone. “His departure from the political scene following that of Mugabe would indeed mark an historic turning point. For the first time in two decades, Zimbabwe would go to the polls without the faces that have come to define and embody Zimbabwean politics.”

Impeachment threat

Mugabe, 93, led the southern African nation from the time it gained independence from white-minority rule in 1980 until November last year, when the Mnangagwa-aligned military seized control of the country and he was forced to resign under threat of impeachment. Western nations accused Mugabe of repeated human-rights abuses and stealing elections.

Tsvangirai helped found the MDC in 1999 and led its election campaigns in 2002, 2008 and 2013, all of which failed to unseat Mugabe and were marred by allegations of rigging, violence and intimidation. A former labor union leader, he’s been subjected to beatings by the authorities, arrest and a treason trial.

While Tsvangirai said on Jan. 8 that “new hands” were needed to take the MDC and the country forward, party spokesman Obert Gutu told reporters he wouldn’t resign and he remained the MDC’s presidential candidate. Tsvangirai will decide when he wants to retire and has yet to make any announcement, Elias Mudzuri, one of the MDC’s three vice presidents, said by phone.

“We appreciate the arrangement the party has made to ensure that he gets as much time as possible for rest and recuperation,” Tsvangirai’s family said Thursday in a statement. 

Potential successors

Under the MDC’s constitution, it would have to call a special congress to elect a successor to Tsvangirai from among its vice presidents should he step down.

Nelson Chamisa, a 39-year-old lawyer, is widely seen as Tsvangirai’s favored successor. The other contenders are Thokozani Khupe, the MDC’s longest-serving vice president who holds an information technology degree, and Mudzuri, an engineer with a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former mayor of Harare.

The MDC needs to rapidly resolve its leadership issues, if it is to avoid alienating its supporters, according to Mukundu.

”It’s an opportunity for renewal for the opposition,” he said. “We’ll see the emergence of new voices from the MDC if the succession is handled with care.”

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P


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