Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, is in a quandary over whether its long-serving leader and founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who’s undergoing treatment for colon cancer, should retire before this year’s elections.
While Tsvangirai, 65, has appeared increasingly frail, he remains the party’s most-popular official and his absence from the ballot could undermine its campaign. The MDC will be up against the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, which toppled Robert Mugabe as its leader and the nation’s president
two months ago and replaced him with his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Tsvangirai’s departure would leave a “huge void” in the MDC, according to Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute in the capital, Harare.
“He’s become the face and the voice of opposition to the authoritarian regime of Robert Mugabe,” Mukundu said by phone. “His departure from the political scene following that of Mugabe would indeed mark an historic turning point. For the first time in two decades, Zimbabwe would go to the polls without the faces that have come to define and embody Zimbabwean politics.”
Mugabe, 93, led the southern African nation from the time it gained independence from white-minority rule in 1980 until November last year, when the Mnangagwa-aligned military seized control of the country and he was forced to resign under threat of impeachment. Western nations accused Mugabe of repeated human-rights abuses and stealing elections.
Tsvangirai helped found the MDC in 1999 and led its election campaigns in 2002, 2008 and 2013, all of which failed to unseat Mugabe and were marred by allegations of rigging, violence and intimidation.