THE jury is out on Tendai Biti who last weekend finally assumed the reins of the newly-formed People’s Democratic Party (PDP), officially confirming him a contender for the 2018 elections.

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By Ray Ndlovu 

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bitiIn the 2018 polls, Biti hopes to challenge President Robert Mugabe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai — long-time rivals who have been locked in three consecutive election contests since 2002.

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Former vice president Joice Mujuru, expected to lead a yet-to-be formalised political outfit, will also stand in the way of Biti’s bid for State House although there are indications that their parties may merge somewhere along the lines.

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Vying for the country’s top post for the first time, Biti obviously will come in as an underdog in the election contest that would most likely be ruthless.

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Whether Biti’s new political adventure will yield anything or not would unravel in the next five years under his leadership until 2020 when his current term expires.

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As leader of the PDP, this will be the first time that Biti would also not be operating under the shadow of Tsvangirai, acting as MDC-T leader’s de-facto right hand man.

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Now as the strongman of the PDP, Biti’s task will be far from easy as he has less than three years in which to charm voters and hope that this would be enough to get him into State House.

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Political commentators are not expecting that it would be smooth sailing for Biti, given the fact that Zimbabwe’s political terrain can be so unforgiving.

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Elections in Zimbabwe have largely been a two-horse race between the incumbent, President Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

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This reality looms large for Biti, who this week told the Financial Gazette, in an interview, that Zimbabwe had to come out of this

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“political inertia” of looking at things in only one way.

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“The focus always is on ZANU-PF and the MDC-T, it’s an unhealthy inertia which the country finds itself in. We need to move on forward,” he said.

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The fascination for ZANU-PF and the MDC-T among voters means that there will be very little grassroots space available for the new political outfit to lay a claim on.

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Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said PDP was likely to operate as a peripheral opposition party that would struggle to gain popularity and supporters.

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“Biti is a good and sincere man who unfortunately lacked strategy in assuming the leadership of the mainstream MDC party. He needed to combine Tsvangirai’s grassroots appeal with his elite intellect,” Mukundu explained.

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“He is left with his intellect, but no capacity for grassroots mobilisation. So I don’t see the PDP posing a challenge to either ZANU-PF or the MDC-T. The best for Biti is to go under the wings of those with grassroots support and rebuild his career from there. As things stand, its only ambition with little chance of success.”

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Two programmes outline the PDP’s plans for getting Zimbabwe on track and these are Holistic Programme for Economic Transformation (HOPE) and the Restoration and Rehabilitation of Electoral Sustainability (ARREST), which show the economic and political pathways Zimbabwe must follow in order for it to return to its former glory days.

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But in a country where political parties seem to be falling head over heels to pen the best policy documents, with little material change in the lives of citizens, the PDP’s latest offering runs the risk of also being ignored by voters, who are keen to have bread and butter issues addressed.

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With the ruling ZANU-PF struggling to implement it’s own economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), due to lack of funding, Biti’s HOPE and ARREST face even a sterner test ahead.

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Under Zim-Asset, over 20 000 jobs have been lost this year alone, contrary to its ambition to create 2,2 million jobs in five years.
\nKhanyile Mlotshwa, a Rhodes University scholar, said Biti had in his inauguration speech shown that he understood the challenge of not seeking to go it alone in selling his vision to election weary voters, but to try and collaborate with other opposition forces to bring about an inclusive change.

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“Biti has the challenge to imagine another radical kind of politics that is not so obsessed with elections. He has to think of how another kind of opposition politics is possible outside of the five yearly role of a supporting act at the elections,” said Mlotshwa.

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Battle tactics for the PDP may well lie in how other political parties that have mushroomed in the southern African region, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, which, outside of elections, is keeping the ruling African National Congress in South Africa on its toes.

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Biti’s sharp tongue, eloquence and political acumen could well make him introduce a firebrand style into Zimbabwe’s politics, long hogged by the outdated “Mugabe must go” sloganeering.

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Time will tell if Biti will rise to the occasion. – FinGaz

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