As Mugabe Falters, Opposition Groups See Opportunity

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

BUT for the absence of an effective opposition, analysts in Harare say, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) would probably not survive through the next elections in 1995 - the fourth since the demise of white minority rule in 1980.

"The throne is up for grabs," says Jonathan Moyo, a leading Zimbabwean political scientist. "The problem is that at this moment there is no one to take it."

With disgruntlement in just about every quarter, coupled with the most open political environment since 1990, "never before has there been a better moment for the opposition to organize than now," he says.

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But for a variety of reasons, no group has grasped the nettle, Professor Moyo says.

In the first seven years of independence, considerable effort went toward uniting ZANU-PF and the then-main opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), which drew most of its support from the minority Ndebele ethnic group. The focus on national unity, according to Moyo, thwarted the emergence of an issue-oriented opposition.

ZANU-PF faced its first real threat in the 1990 presidential and legislative elections, when party stalwart Edgar Tekere broke away to form the Zimbabwe Unity Movement. Internal squabbles, however, split ZUM three ways after the election.

One of those factions, the Democracy Party (DP), will hold a congress next month, at which it hopes to present itself as a viable party.

According to DP Secretary-General Davison Gomo, "the political atmosphere in Zimbabwe is relatively free. The major inhibiting factor to opposition parties now is lack of resources and infrastructure to organize."

Possibly the most promising political development in Zimbabwe, analysts say, is the recent launch of the entirely new Forum for Democratic Reform, aimed initially at bringing together concerned individuals and fostering debate.

The group, according to the vice chairman of the Interim Steering Committee, Eddie Monteiro, has deliberately avoided becoming a political party straight away. "We can only succeed," Mr. Monteiro says, "if we have credible policies and leaders and can offer a viable alternative."

The forum advocates market-based reforms, cuts in the Cabinet from 52 to 14 ministers, restitution of a two-chamber legislature, and a limit of two five-year terms for the executive.

Although the forum has as its chief patron Zimbabawe's first Supreme Court judge, Justice Dumbutshena, the government-owned media has criticized it as being dominated by white liberals from pre-independence days. More critical, Moyo says, is the forum's apparent urban-elite bias. "None of the opposition parties is going for the voters, most of whom are in the rural areas," he says.

Due to the lack of a plausible alternative to the ruling party, coupled with the extent to which ZANU-PF has entrenched itself, Moyo believes the only effective opposition in Zimbabwe will come from within the ruling party's own ranks.

Fear of this, Moyo says, explains President Robert Mugabe's refusal to cut his oversized Cabinet, despite pressure from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The president is now depending on the dictum, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer" for his political survival, Moyo says.

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