In 2000, the opposition mobilised around the constitutional referendum, campaigning for a “No” vote.
This helped defeat ZANU-PF’s proposed new constitution, with the majority of “No” votes coming from the two major urban constituencies of Harare and Bulawayo.
In the June 2000 parliamentary elections later that year, the MDC won every single constituency in the urban provinces of Harare and Bulawayo.
The party garnered 47% of the vote nationwide, but reached 76% in Harare and 84% in Bulawayo.
In 2005, there was a slight shift.
The MDC still picked up several seats in towns and cities in parliamentary elections, but its vote dropped significantly.
It won 16 of the capital’s 17 constituencies, for example, but it lost Harare South, a seat it had won by nearly 7 000 votes five years before.
The MDC brushed off this defeat and blamed the government’s gerrymandering, which had redrawn constituency boundaries and reduced Harare from 19 constituencies down to 17.
However, this ignored the fact that the party had failed to attract particularly poorer voters.
Harare South was one of the areas worst affected by the government’s widely-condemned Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 to forcibly clear slums.
The clean-up process left over 700 000 poor urbanites homeless.
The MDC’s failure to retain Harare South was a small but important indication that the party hadn’t managed to craft a message that appealed to the urban poor.
In 2008, amidst an economic crisis and inflation rates in the billions of percent, the MDC recorded its best electoral results yet.
It gained a majority in parliament, while Tsvangirai garnered 48% to Mugabe’s 43% in the first round of the presidential vote.
Violence and intimidation in the run-up to the second round led Tsvangirai to boycott the run-off.
Mugabe was therefore easily re-elected as president.
But ongoing instability eventually forced ZANU-PF into a coalition government with the opposition.
In this Government of National Unity, the finance ministry was led by the MDC.
Under its watch, the economy improved significantly leading to the expectation that the party would be rewarded in the 2013 elections.
But instead, the party saw its vote share plummet.
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