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A woman walks past election posters in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo - RC191C773A60

Analysis

Youth vote crucial to MDC Alliance but certainly can’t be taken for granted

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THE opposition MDC Alliance’s ambitious plan to capture the hearts of six million voters ahead of 2023 will only be successful if the party focuses on the youth vote while consolidating its city support and seeking to increase its rural penetration, analysts have said. 

NYASHA CHINGONO

Last week, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the party, which is largely viewed as urban centred, is now refocusing its efforts to attract the rural vote, where 67% of the country’s population resides. 

While it is a noble and commendable plan of action, considering that its main rival Zanu PF is also focused on retaining much of the rural vote, analysts say the MDC Alliance does not have the right arsenal to charm rural voters. 

Analysts say the party cannot offer patronage while there is a need for a robust move to strengthen its rural base, by among other things establishing structures at grassroots level. In many rural areas, it is believed the MDC Alliance does not have solid structures. 
Mahere maintains that the MDC Alliance already has a footprint in the rural areas, including in Zanu PF strongholds.

But Zanu PF seems to have strengthened its advantage there through a restructuring exercise carried out at a time the country was under the Covid-19 lockdown.

On the other hand, the MDC Alliance has not embarked on a robust restructuring and strengthening of party structures, a move that has exposed its weak organisation. To mobilise rural support, the party should adopt strong pro-rural policies, including a good agricultural policy which has concrete deliverables. 

Twitter spaces chats, online rallies and hollow rhetoric are not enough to secure the critical rural vote come 2023, although it is critical with the urban vote in mind.

Mahere’s comments on the party’s activity in the rural areas were also devoid of key result areas to prove real action on the ground. 

Although the ruling party’s district coordinating committee elections were marred by violence, Zanu PF retains a strong footprint in the rural areas while its penchant to abuse state resources to its advantage is also critical in securing rural votes.

Zanu PF has over the years capitalised on the Presidential Input Scheme and with the rains imminent, the party is set to retain its support base if the MDC Alliance does not move to counter its machinations. 

Commentators say Zanu PF is no doubt ahead of MDC Alliance when it comes to mobilising the rural vote and despite the current infighting, the party has a tendency to regroup and close ranks ahead of watershed elections. 

Coercion has also been an effective mobilisation tool for Zanu PF.

Violence, coupled with general hostility against the opposition party has created an uneven playing field for the MDC since 2000. 

In many cases, those seen to be supporting the MDC Alliance have either been maimed, killed, abducted or tortured. And as fear continues to reign, there remains a sense of uncertainty in some of its supporters. 

As such, Zanu PF has successfully weakened the opposition in the rural areas where the larger part of the population resides, hence deciding an election. 

The opposition is at its weakest financially, with donor fatigue creeping in. Without a headquarters and running on shoe-string member-based funding, the MDC Alliance requires huge finances to turn the tables in the rural areas. 

Despite the challenges, Chamisa remains very popular while the fact that Mnangagwa is struggling to turn around the country’s economic fortunes will ensure that he remains a viable option.

Political analyst Stephen Chan said Chamisa remains the only credible opposition leader.

“He remains the only credible opposition leader. I do not regard MDC-T leader (Douglas) Mwonzora as someone who can capture a significant number of votes, either for himself or his version of the party. As for Chamisa, he might be best placed to capture a significant number of Presidential votes, but not necessarily Parliamentary votes,” Chan said. 

He said Chamisa should also consolidate his urban support base ahead of 2023. 

“But can Chamisa talk to rural voters as he wishes to? He can offer no patronage, and nor should he. But he doesn’t seem to have agricultural policies either. A city-based agenda won’t work in the rural areas. Basically my feeling is he should work to consolidate his support in the cities and particularly among the youth — but, for them, he needs policies of advancement based on cyber technologies and the facilitation of start-ups,” Chan said. 

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the MDC Alliance lacks the financial muscle to mobilise mass support around its ideas. 

“If they have resources, yes they stand a good chance because it requires a lot of money for mobilisation of the people and so on,” Mandaza said, adding that the party’s voter registration was not a guarantee of a successful election. 

“It is good that the opposition is pushing for registration, but you are not guaranteed that those people will eventually vote for you. Zanu PF may be registering potential MDC voters and vice versa.”

Mandaza said MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa, who lost by a wafer-thin margin to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, will likely fail to repeat his 2018 feat when he garnered two million votes and almost forced a run off. 

“In 2023, it appears Chamisa may not be as formidable as in 2018 but his opponent’s misfortunes appear to have increased and his profile has also worsened,” he said. 
“The MDC structures are very weak unlike Zanu PF which also has an advantage of using state resources.”

Apart from financial battles and state-induced failure to mobilise, the MDC Alliance has over the past year been rattled by parliamentary recalls, battle over the name and the party’s unceremonious removal from the Morgan Tsvangirayi House headquarters in Harare by former secretary-general Mwonzora is at its weakest. 

Although he has denied it on several occasions, Mwonzora is believed to be a pawn in Zanu PF’s game to maintain a grip on power. 

As well as the parliamentary recalls of top MDC-Alliance officials and the subsequent amendments to the constitution, Mnangagwa is looking at tightening his grip on power, nearly four years after toppling longtime ruler Mugabe. 

Ahead of 2023, observers have called for the MDC Alliance to rebrand to avoid confusion amid indications that Mwonzora would run his campaign under the Alliance brand. 
Without being drawn into confirming the name change, Mahere said Chamisa will run his campaign under a broad alliance of citizens. 

With policy clarity and deliberate moves to defy the status quo in rural areas, the MDC Alliance can cause an upset in the rural areas although the party should strengthen its urban support base. The opposition party is likely to ride on the collapsing economy to entice the urban youth vote but needs a clear policy framework that presents the opposition as a credible alternative. 

Whatever the opposition does between now and 2023, it will have to do more than talk to dislodge Zanu PF which has been at the helm since 1980.

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