HomeOpinion & AnalysisOf dark horses, spoilers and kingmakers

Of dark horses, spoilers and kingmakers


In last week’s instalment, I analysed the chances of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC-T and MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa’s prospects in the July 30 presidential race.

Dumisani O Nkomo

Today, I will focus on the chances of four other contenders for the presidency, but more importantly, assess the extent to which they will have an impact on the votes that Chamisa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa will ultimately get.

This year, Zimbabwe has a record of 23 presidential candidates, with the nature of candidates ranging from brilliant to bizarre, but in a democracy such as ours, “all things may be permissible, but not all things may be beneficial as the biblical Apostle Paul notes in his letter to the Romans”.

Undoubtedly, voters will see some of the candidates’ names and parties for the first time in the voting booth and what an experience it will be, with the novel possibility of having textbook size ballot paper or will it be ballot booklet.

Nonetheless, it is essential for the electorate to know the calibre, capacity, craft competence and probability of winning of the various candidates on offer.

Assumptions for strong candidature

In an ideal world, the qualities and ability of prospective candidates is the sole determining factor, but in a country such as ours, which some define as an emerging democracy, others as a fragile democracy, yet others say it’s a glorified securocracy — it may be pie in sky to assume that a meritocratic democracy [as Brett Chulu would call it] is a possibility.

A democratic meritocracy captures the essence of electing leaders or having leaders that are elected or chosen on merit and not necessarily on popularity.

Popularity may not necessarily denote or translate into what some scholars describe as “craft competence” or the ability to deliver based on the availability of key skills and competencies.

Some of the essential strengths and competencies that are required by political players, more so those contending for the presidency require in the Zimbabwean context are the following:

Strong institutional presence and capacity epitomised by strong party structures at local level.

Institutional “vote harvesting” capacity evidenced by fielding of candidates countrywide so as to harvest as many votes as possible.


Electoral appeal and charisma

Competence/ ability

Social media impact

Capacity to harness rural vote

Youth appeal

If we are to use the above as a basis of assessing the chances and impact of electoral candidates, it then leaves four other candidates in contention to be either dark horses to win, possible spoilers, vote splitters and/or kingmakers in the event of a run-off.

Those in contention outside of Mnangagwa and Chamisa then become Joice Mujuru, Thokozani Khupe, Nkosana Moyo and Ambrose Mutinhiri.

These four candidates will significantly impact on electoral choices and the electoral chances of the two main contenders, as they will eat into or provide alternatives to the two.

Importantly, it must be noted that a presidential candidate who is backed by a party with a presence in all or most of the constituencies generally stands a better chance than a candidate who does not have the backing of a party with candidates in all or most of the constituencies.

The general assumption is that a presidential candidate with at least 150 candidates contesting at House of Assembly level and about 1 000 at local government level has more chances of harnessing votes since the various candidates at various levels will probably also campaign and garner votes for the party’s presidential candidate or preferred presidential candidate.


Mujuru’s People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC) has House of Assembly in all provinces and only trails the MDC Alliance and Zanu PF, in this regard, who are contesting in 209 and 210 House of Assembly constituencies.

Mujuru, therefore, stands a huge chance of harnessing a significant number of votes due to the institutional capacity of her party to carry her campaign at ward and constituency level.

Her other strength is that she appears to be a mature alternative to Chamisa and has a better human rights record than Mnangagwa, as she was not out-rightly fingered in human rights violations of the 1980s in Matabeleland and Midlands, and the 2000 to 2008 violence.

She has worked in government before as a Vice-President and was effective enough to warrant suspicions that she was a threat to former President Robert Mugabe’s throne. She will do well probably in the Mashonaland provinces in terms of number of votes.

She will be a beneficiary of Zimbabwe’s ethnocentric politics, as she belongs to the Zezuru tribe, which has deep roots in this part of the country.

The country’s patriarchal culture, which has seen the number of women candidates dwindling due to intimidation, violence and vote-buying in most of the major political parties, may not significantly affect her as she has historically earned a reputation of being a leading liberation war hero and later on Vice-President of choice. She is mature and has characteristics of a statesperson.


Mujuru lacks charisma and popular appeal and projects lack of intellectual depth. She has not clearly articulated her dream or vision for a Zimbabwe of the future unlike Chamisa and ED.

I am not referring to manifestoes here, but an ability to intuitively paint a picture of the Zimbabwe we want whenever given the opportunity.

She will, thus, not appeal to the youth, who currently constitute up to about 45% of the electorate. She was a Cabinet minister from the 1980s and to claim ignorance of Mugabe’s political and economic genocide would denote lack of critical thinking.

She failed to emerge as the leading opposition figure after she left Zanu PF at a time when many where beginning to look for a third way and this may exhibit lack of assertiveness and political inertia.

She stands a good chance of coming in as a dark horse and upsetting the top two contenders and, at least, dividing the Zanu PF vote.

She would be a kingmaker in the event of a run off and both Chamisa and Mnangagwa may try to court her if she does not make it in the first round.


The Khupe-led breakaway MDC-T is fielding candidates in most provinces, with fewer candidates in Mashonaland Central and the Midlands probably due to political pacts with other parties, possibly the PRC.

She has been an apparent victim of internal democracy weaknesses in the MDC and has been subjected to verbal and physical abuse by her erstwhile foes.

This, however, will not be sufficient in landing her the presidency primarily because her party is not fielding candidates in all the House of Assembly constituencies and local government wards, thus, affecting her party’s institutional capacity to harvest or harness the necessary votes.

Khupe is an experienced politician, however, who has served in government and has a great record of developmental service.

Her key weaknesses are lack of popular appeal and destitution of relevance due to the Chamisa momentum and the ED juggernaut.

The problem with momentum is that it may not necessarily instal the best candidate, but it gathers pace and power for whoever has reins over it and in this case it is Chamisa and Mnangagwa.

Khupe has a stately demeanour and would be a head of government but although this may be desirable this is highly unlikely.

However, she lacks charisma and may not appeal to younger voters. She has overcome the politics of patriarchalism in the past and one hopes Zimbabwe rids itself off sexism and tribalism which have been blight on good leaders such as Khupe, Priscilla Misihaibwi-Mushonga to name a few.

She will defiantly split the Chamisa vote and the confusion in the party names may work to her advantage. She cannot be wished away in an inclusive government or as a key ally in a run off.


The reason why I place Mutinhiri and his fractured National Patriotic Front in the equation is because this party is fielding candidates countrywide and has enough internal knowledge of Zanu PF to cause grief to Mnangagwa and Zanu PF.
Obviously, the main objective of the NPF is not to win the presidential race but to ensure that ED does not win outrightly.

Institutionally, Mutinhiri will be buoyed by the party’s strength in Mashonaland provinces, which have a combined 1 687 692 registered voters.

Mugabe is still relatively popular in Mashonaland provinces and this will add impetus to Mutinhiri.

The former Zipra commander, however, lacks charisma, appeal, initiative and relevance.

His military background comes in handy in the face of rising securocratic politics in Zimbabwe and definitely ethnic politics will work in his favour.

However, his aim is to be a spoiler and hopefully grab a number of House of Assembly seats. He will divide the Zanu PF presidential vote.

His party is experiencing internal fractures which may weaken his chances substantially.

Space and time does not permit me to significantly analyse the chances of Alliance for the People’s Agenda leader Moyo and will be an injustice to this great man to commit a paragraph to him.

To this end, I will look at his chances and indeed his role in the next instalment with the introductory challenge being his party’s inability to field sufficient House of Assembly candidates which according to my theory of institutional presence and a capacity significantly affect his chances.

Let me do justice to him however and analyse that in the next instalment.


If we are to stick to the theory that presidential candidates who are contesting in the most number of constituencies generally stand a better chance than those who have fewer House of Assembly candidates, then it becomes a logical conclusion that the race may be between Mnangagwa and Chamisa with Mujuru as a dark horse, Khupe as a king maker, Mutinhiri as a spoiler and Moyo being a brilliant presidential candidate but with a better chance in 2023 or 2028.

Dumisani O Nkomo is the chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust. He is also an activist, content producer and writer. He writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on Dumisani.nkomo@gmail.com

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