Harare – Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which beat President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF in elections in 2008, is now committing political suicide according to many of the party’s supporters and analysts.

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By Peta Thornycroft

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Tsvangirai

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It was already weakened by declining popularity and “rigged” elections in 2013, but is now giving Zanu-PF another 21 seats it held in the huge house of assembly in which Zanu-PF already has more than a two-thirds majority.

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Despite the “unfair” 2013 elections, the MDC still was in political control of the two largest cities, Harare and Bulawayo.

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Zanu-PF has failed to win a single seat in any election in second city Bulawayo since the MDC party emerged late in 1999.

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The present vacancies came about when 21 sitting MDC MPs and senators were expelled from the house of assembly. This group of MDC legislators fell out with Tsvangirai last year and call themselves the MDC Renewal Team.

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Tsvangirai asked them to be expelled because he said they won their seats on the MDC ticket in 2013 and were no longer members of his party. Floor crossing is not allowed in Zimbabwe.

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The Zanu-PF speaker, Jacob Mudenda, agreed to their expulsion and declared them “strangers in the house” last month.

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Now Tsvangirai said he would boycott the by-elections called to fill these vacancies because there had been no electoral reforms since the new constitution came into operation in 2013.

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Tsvangirai’s boycott announcement excited Zanu-PF, which said it was now going to win substantial victories in both main cities. It is screening candidates for the by-elections.

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Among those expelled at Tsvangirai’s request is former MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, who is one of the leaders of the Renewal Team.

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Biti and co have appealed their expulsion from parliament and the case is due to be heard in the high court two days before the nomination court sits on April 16 to approve the candidates for the by-elections.

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If Biti and his fellow MPs lose the court case, it is not clear whether they will fight the by-elections as a new political party or whether some members will stand as independents.

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Zanu-PF is now preparing for primary elections to chose its candidates for the by-elections and says it is excited at its chances of winning seats it lost in 2000 when the MDC first challenged Zanu-PF.

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Some analysts say Tsvangirai’s boycott may give the ruling party a third of the parliamentary seats in Bulawayo.

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If it wins the vacant seats in Harare, then Zanu-PF will be in control of nearly half of the capital city’s constituencies.

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“It will be silly for the MDC parties not to contest and simply hand over the seats to their political rivals. The decision that makes political sense is to contest and win,” said Dumisani Mpofu, a political analyst in Bulawayo, who was quoted in New Zimbabwe.com.

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“Considering their popularity in the city it would have made sense for them to contest.”

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Another Bulawayo political analyst, Dumisani Nkomo, called Tsvangirai’s position “the great betrayal” for the people of Bulawayo.

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“They will be betraying people if they do not contest and they will be giving away space and that shows political immaturity on their part. They are giving away space which they should be defending and that is actually suicidal.”

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Derek Matyszak, a lawyer for the Research and Advocacy Unit in Harare said Tsvangirai’s demand for his former colleagues’ expulsion “could not be justified in any way. It is just malice. He is unconcerned at the joy it brings to Zanu-PF”.

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He said Tsvangirai and others who oppose Zanu-PF should put up “proxy” candidates standing as independents to “rescue” the situation. – IOL