Can MDC upset the ZANU-PF apple-cart?

It will be a tough fight. But while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is not likely to spring a surprise victory in the March 31 elections, it should be able to stop the ruling ZANU-PF from winning the two-thirds majority that the party is so desperate to clinch.

The MDC's worst enemy will be apathy. Most of its supporters may not have registered to vote following the party's threats to boycott all elections including the coming elections if the government did not level the playing field.

Though the government has ostensibly opened the airwaves to all parties contesting the elections, the electronic media seems to be favouring ZANU-PF candidates, those from three smaller parties that are not a threat to the ruling party, as well as independent candidates who have no chance of upsetting the cart.

Five political parties are contesting the elections with ZANU-PF and the MDC contesting all 120 seats at stake.

The Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU Ndonga) is contesting 15, including Chipinge, where the party has never been beaten since independence. Party president Wilson Kumbula presently holds the seat.

The Zimbabwe People's Democratic Party (ZPDP), which claims to have been in existence since 1991 and says it was formed to stop ZANU-PF from introducing a one-party state, is fielding only one candidate in the MDC stronghold of Glen View in Harare. The party is led by Isabel Madangure but she is not contesting the elections, saying she is waiting her turn in 2008.

The little known Zimbabwe Youth Alliance, whose acronym ZIYA means sweat, is contesting three seats, one in Glen Norah, an MDC stronghold, another in Buhera North which was held by ZANU-PF and Chirumanzu also held by ZANU-PF.

Sixteen independent candidates, among them former information minister and President Robert Mugabe's propaganda chief Jonathan Moyo and former ZANU-PF provincial chairman for Matabeleland South, Lloyd Siyoka, suspended for attending the infamous Tsholotsho meeting, are contesting the elections.

Three MDC MPs are also contesting as independents. These are Silas Chingono of Masvingo, Dunmore Makuwaza of Mbare and Peter Nyoni of Hwange.

Margaret Dongo, who made history in the 1990s when she won the Harare Central seat after standing as an independent when she fell out with the ZANU-PF leadership, is once again standing in that constituency as an independent.

The only independent candidate who seems to have a chance is Jonathan Moyo unless the people of Tsholotsho are misleading him just like the people of Chipinge have misled ZANU-PF over the years by packing stadiums when it addresses rallies in the area only to vote ZANU (Ndonga) at elections.

ZANU PF has several advantages in the coming elections, the biggest being that of incumbency. It has access to state machinery and this enables it to campaign freely and widely.

It also has the cash. The party was awarded $3.38 billion last month under the Political Parties Finance Act. It has access to the state media both electronic and print.

While the MDC also has cash because it was awarded Z$3.12 billion under the Political Parties Finance Act last month, it has very little access to the mainstream electronic and print media. The only independent daily at the moment, the Daily Mirror, has a very small circulation and is widely considered to be sympathetic to ZANU-PF.

Another major disadvantage is that the MDC lost three seats before the race had even begun. It lost one seat in Bulawayo, one in Matabeleland South and one in Harare which were scrapped during the delimitation exercise. They were awarded to areas sympathetic to ZANU-PF, one in Mashonaland West, one in Mashonaland East and one in Manicaland.

A province-by-province analysis shows that the MDC could sweep all the seven seats in Bulawayo. It had eight seats in the previous elections.

It could win six of the seven seats in Matabeleland South. Though ZANU-PF currently holds three seats in the province, Beitbridge, Gwanda South and Insiza, it could lose Beitbridge because Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, who won the seat in 2000, is facing a serious challenge from former provincial chairman Lloyd Siyoka.

This could split the vote in favour of the MDC candidate but Mohadi is a tough candidate to beat because of his dollar power.

There will be a tough fight in Gwanda where two constituencies, one which was held by ZANU-PF and the other by the MDC, were merged.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Abednico Ncube who won Gwanda South is standing against MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi who won Gwanda North in 2000. The seat could go either way but the scales are in favour of Nyathi.

There is little doubt that Andrew Langa, the current MP for Insiza, could retain the seat perhaps becoming the only ruling party MP in the whole region.

The MDC could also sweep all seats in Matabeleland North except Tsholotsho where Jonathan Moyo is widely expected to win. The MDC won all seven seats in 2000 and lost Lupane through a by-election. It is likely to regain that seat. If Moyo loses in Tsholotsho, this could be the end of his political career.

The MDC is likely to win all 18 seats in Harare. It may face stiff challenge in Zengeza currently held by ZANU-PF through a by-election but observers say it is likely to win the day. The MDC is likely to pull through even in Mbare where Dunmore Makuwaza may to spoil things.

The MDC could pull off four seats in Manicaland, three urban seats in Mutare and Chimanimani where jailed MP Roy Bennett's nomination papers will be considered following a ruling by the Electoral Court.

Some observers say it could retain Nyanga though it has dropped Leonard Chirowanzira and replaced him with Douglas Mwonzora.

It is not likely to win any seats in Mashonaland East and Central, but could pull two or three seats in Mashonaland West, especially in the urban centres and constituencies that take in both rural and urban voters like the newly created Manyame.

In Masvingo, though a ZANU-PF stronghold, people in this province tend to show strong feelings if the party imposes candidates on them. The MDC could win one or two urban seats. It could also walk away with three seats in the Midlands.

The MDC could therefore walk away with at least 49 seats. If Chipinge goes to ZANU and Tsholotsho to Moyo, this will stop ZANU-PF from winning a two-thirds majority.

ZANU-PF is after a two-thirds majority to override the people's rejection of a new constitution in 2000. While the party says it wants to create a senate that will comprise mature politicians who will scrutinise legislation before it is signed into law, some critics say the whole idea is a ploy to reward party loyalists.

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