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Africa

MDC in tough Zimbabwe election battle

Zimbabwe's MDC party has spent the last five years sharing power with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. The MDC party enjoys much sympathy abroad, but at home support is rather less buoyant.

A woman stands beside election posters of Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai as she speaks on a mobile phone in central Harare July 12 2013. Zimbabwe will hold general elections on July 31. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (ZIMBABWE)

Simbabwe Wahlen Movement For Democratic Change MDC

Theoretically at least, clinching the country's top job shouldn't be a problem for any prime minister running a country with such an impressive track record: Economic growth stood at 5 percent in 2012, inflation that once stood at 500 billion percent is under control and a new constitution is in place.

Yet Morgan Tsvangirai, who will try to oust Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for a third time in elections on July 31, faces an uphill battle. "Recent surveys suggest that ZANU-PF by now attracts more public support than the MDC, a total turnaround from 2008/2009," noted a brief written by the Directorate-General for External Policies of the European Parliament.

A majority for Robert Mugabe?

The document quotes a  survey by the US-based NGO Freedom House. More than half of the respondents were ready to declare which party they would support in the upcoming elections. Their replies are likely to give Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters sleepless nights. Just 20 percent said they would support his MDC-T party (down from 38 percent in 2010), but 31 percent plumped for ZANU-PF (up from 17 percent).

Mugabe and Tsvangirai Bildnummer: 55272682 Datum: 18.04.2011 Copyright: imago/Xinhua

Rivals Robert Mugabe (left) and Morgan Tsvangiria formed a power sharing goverment in 2009

In the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai made history in the presidential polls in Zimbabwe by gaining 47.9 percent of the votes in the first round, with Mugabe scoring only 43.2 percent. In parliament, Tsvangirai's MDC-T party and another MDC faction secured a mjaority.

Publicly, the MDC is keeping its cool. "An opinion poll is what it is - an opinion. You don't convey it into facts, that is not correct. The MDC is going to win this election", MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti told DW in a recent interview. Biti believes that the MDC will get 78 percent of the votes - a rather ambitious target.

Poor performance by MDC councillors

Not everybody in Zimbabwe is  happy with the performance of some of the MDC's lawmakers. "Some councillors have come under fire for lack of competency or misappropriation of funds. On the other hand, people also know that there are hardworking lawmakers," Jürgen Langen, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's Zimbabwe office told DW. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is a think-tank affiliated to Germany's Christian Democratic Party. In 2012, the MDC bowed to public pressure and fired 12 councillors over corruption allegations.

The track record of the MDC representatives in the national government is also not always seen in a positive light. Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also the MDC's Secretary-General, enjoys a good reputation abroad  for bringing inflation under control and stabilizing the economy. Back at home though, many Zimbabweans think that the government has not done enough. 72 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Zimbabwe opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks at the launch of his party's election campaign in Marondera, about 70 km (43 miles) east of Harare, July 7, 2013. Tsvangirai, launching his third campaign to unseat veteran President Robert Mugabe, said nothing had been achieved to ensure a fairer vote but even God now wanted Mugabe to go. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (ZIMBABWE - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Morgan Tsvangirai launching his third bid to unseat President Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF has moved swiftly to make sure that public anger over dire living conditions is directed at the MDC.  "The rich resources that our country is endowed with are for the black people, this is our country. And those who must rule this country must be black people," President Mugabe told a recent campaign rally near the capital Harare. ZANU-PF is promoting a large-scale economic reform program that includes a planned take-over of foreign owned companies in Zimbabwe by locals. But the appeal of such populist schemes would appear limited.

"Such slogans are popular in rural areas, while people in the cities think that they are election tactics", Jürgen Langen told DW.

Memebers of the ruling party Zanu PF militia, beat unidentified people at the venue of the proposed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party rally in Harare, Sunday, June 22, 2008. .(AP Photo)

About 200 died when the 2008 poll descended into bloodshed.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's love life has also not helped to win over new voters for the MDC. Since his wife Susan died in a car crash in 2009, Tsvangirai is said to have fathered a child with a 22-year old woman. He is also locked in a court battle with another woman who claims to have had a relationship with the 61-year old. Such relevations sent his popularity ratings into free-fall even among stalwart MDC supporters, many of whom are conservative Christians.

Election wide open

While there a growing number of media reports predicting a poor peformance of the MDC at the polls, the accuracy of such forecasts remain doubtful. In 2008, many press articles suggested that Tsvangirai might lose votes to Simba Makoni, a former finance minister turned presidential candidate. In the end, it was Tsvangirai who polled the highest number of votes in the first round, leaving President Mugabe and Simba Makoni behind him.

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