As the MDC edges closer to its congress, there is a growing battle over proposed constitutional amendments, which is set to put the leader of the party, Morgan Tsvangirai under severe test. Tsvangirai shall have, yet again, to manage and balance opposing camps, both of which are determined to push their way through.
There is a very strong camp that is unwavering in their calls for major constitutional changes, mainly centred at trimming the powers of the Secretary General and the Treasurer General's departments. On the other hand, there is an equally powerful push to resist the plans, by a camp which has gone out in full force to lobby for support.
The MDC has, in its 14 years of existence, faced power battles on two occasions, with holders of secretary and treasurer's positions involved in what became to be generally regarded as coup attempts aimed at toppling Tsvangirai. In 2005 then secretary general Welshman Ncube moved out to form a splinter group, and this year, former MDC secretary general, Tendai Biti openly attempted to oust the Tsvangirai leadership, unsuccessfully.
In both instances, stories portraying deeply-entrenched divisions and power battles later came to the fore, raising concern about what some members of the party found to be a problem of 'two centres of power'. The News Leader spoke to several members of the MDC, both in top leadership and also below in the structures.
"We have had enough of the problem caused by too much powers invested in the offices of secretary general and treasurer. We cannot leave things as they are when we have had systematic looting of funds because of that power structure. It certainly has to change," veteran politician and senator James Makore said.
There is a plan to amend the constitution and trim the powers of the secretary general and treasurer, so that they become appointed by the president after consulting the national council, and can be fired through the same process. That motion further seeks to transfer some of the powers from the 'problematic departments' to the office of the president.
However and very interestingly, the equally strong opposition to those proposals includes very key allies of Tsvangirai, such as his deputy Thokozani Khupe and organising secretary Nelson Chamisa. There is a strong sentiment that making the amendments on powers of the secretary general and treasurer, would be deemed undemocratic in as far as it emerges in the end to be centralising power around the president.
Chamisa refused to open up on the matter and tried to be diplomatic, saying "it is the people that will say and determine what is good for the party and l am sure it won't be a cause of fights. We are having healthy debates, which is the way to go".
Among the arguments raised by the camp opposed to the plans of trimming power of the secretary and treasurer's departments, is that, doing so would 'play into the hands of the Biti rebels and appear like vindicating their claims'.
Biti blamed Tsvangirai for allegedly being dictatorial and wanting to possess too much power, upon which basis his small group tried to establish its mission of purpotedly fighting for 'leadership renewal'.
According to our investigations, there is likely to be eventually a compromise that may see some measures being introduced, aimed at increasing oversight by the president and party organs on the operations of the secretary and treasurer's departments, but without blatantly trimming their powers.
It is also likely that the office bearers will still be elected, but with a clause introduced, that empowers the president and national council to 'recall and redeploy' office bearers, according to what we have gathered. The debate over proposed amendments to the power structure has led to the MDC deputy national chairman Morgen Komichi being accused of manipulating public sentiment and input of party members and structures.
Komichi is believed to be on the side favouring the trimming of secretary and treasurer department's powers. He, however denied the allegations when we interviewed him.
"That is not true. We are gathering and compiling what the people are saying and can prove that," Komichi said.
Our survey showed that within the MDC structures, the majority of members were pushed into impulsively backing the proposal to eliminate the two centres of power, largely through what came out as blatant theft, abuse and subversion of authority by the Biti group.
"We saw in the end that Biti and Mangoma were running their own show and that must be brought to an end through the amendments," a member of the party's Women's Assembly said.
Tsvangirai shall have to handle the two opposed positions, with the bulk of party members likely to support sweeping changes, yet at the same time with sensitive implications pointed at by the other camp. What is likely to easily sail through is the proposal to introduce the position of second vice president, with Komichi or party chairman Lovemore Moyo tipped to be elected.
The race for positions is highlighted by what is anticipated to be a tight contest between acting secretary general Tapiwa Mashakada, gunning to be elected for that office and likely to be challenged by spokesman Douglas Mwonzora. Acting treasurer Theresa Makone seems set to be challenged for that position by senator Obert Gutu.
Chamisa, who is being keenly watched by many people, and was being linked to the position of secretary general, denied wanting to contest for that position.
"I am certainly not challenging for the secretary general's position and will make up my mind about which position l may contest for," he said.
Tsvangirai is set to be retained uncontested, as it appears that former Harare mayor Elias Mudzuri, who had hinted on contesting for the MDC top position, has developed cold feet. There are serious battles for positions in the party's youth assembly, where Clifford Hlatywayo, Happymore Chidziva and James Chidhakwa are gunning for the position of chairperson.
Lovemore Chinoputsa is reported to be facing a stern challenge from Jeremiah Bhamu for the secretary general's position. Caston Matewu appears set to be elected as treasurer of the youth group. MP for Mufakose Paurina Gwanyanya Mpariwa is expected to claim the position of chairperson of Women's Assembly.
Controversy could emerge around the issue of returnee Job Sikhala. There is a strong sentiment calling for Sikhala to be elected for a top position, but the party is believed to be planning to put a two-year ban on members that once defected, barring them from holding positions.
The charismatic and popular Sikhala, one of the founding members of the MDC, defected with the Ncube group in 2005 and then formed his MDC99 in 2010. After failing to grow his party, Sikhala this year returned to the MDC, to revive his dance with especially youths that are charmed by his bombastic and outspoken nature.