The announcement has stirred interest – inside and outside the party. This is because there could be an intriguing contest for the presidency of the party between the incumbent Nelson Chamisa and the secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora. The two have a history of rivalry.
Mwonzora is Chamisa’s political nemesis. In 2014 Mwonzora unexpectedly won a contest for the position of secretary-general even though Chamisa, as organising secretary, was in a position to influence party structures in his favour and had been nominated by 11 out of 12 provinces.
One theory is that the MDC’s former leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February 2018, engineered Mwonzora’s victory by influencing the voting patterns of congress delegates. The reason given for this is that he wanted to curtail Chamisa’s political ambitions because of his perceived role in the MDC’s surprising poor showing in the 2013 national elections.
After his defeat, Chamisa was relegated to an ordinary party member, until Tsvangirai brought him back into the MDC’s executive. The speculation is that Tsvangirai did this because he sensed that Chamisa was still popular within the party’s structures, especially among younger members.
A Mwonzora victory is worrying for some of Chamisa’s most fervent supporters. This is because they believe Chamisa is the future of the party. He’s only 41 years old. Also, they believe he gave ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa a run for his money in the 2018 presidential elections. Chamisa’s camp believes he’s better placed to defeat Mnangagwa in the 2023 elections because of his widespread national appeal.
Mwonzora too has his fair share of supporters. He’s also widely respected within the MDC because of his easy going temperament.
What this all adds up to is that a victory by either candidate could split the party for the umpteenth time. Even a contest carries risks because the MDC has a chequered history in which violence has been used regularly against opposing factions.
If the two do contest the party presidency in May – and Mwonzora in the past few days has hinted that he might – their supporters’ tactics could heighten the danger of violence and intimidation. This could further divide or damage the party and set Zimbabwean democracy back after decades of authoritarian rule.
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