Advisors to Simba Makoni, the former Zimbabwean finance minister who threw down the gauntlet to President Robert Mugabe this week by announcing his candidacy for president in March elections, have urged him to forge a strategic alliance with the opposition given signs he may not garner much open ruling party support.
Makoni said Tuesday when he announced his candidacy that senior ZANU-PF figures would soon join him, but sources close to Makoni say this was a tactical error given a harsh ruling party response that could sway others from declaring open backing.
ZANU-PF insiders told VOA that the Central Intelligence Organization has submitted a report to Mr. Mugabe advising him that Makoni's bid to displace him from the highest office in the land is not likely to shake the ruling party to its foundations.
The report warned the ZANU-PF leadership not to send new supporters to Makoni by mishandling its ongoing primary elections, which could alienate office seekers.
The ZANU-PF elections directorate is said to have been flooded with complaints about alleged irregularities in primaries, including announcements saying that candidates were unopposed though primaries were still being organized. Sources said that the president has taken direct charge of the party response to the complaints.
A number of Mr. Mugabe's ministers have been defeated in party primaries, possibly reflecting disenchantment at the party's grass roots.
Political analyst Dewa Mavhinga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it is not surprising ZANU-PF members are not prepared to join Makoni as they have traditionally stuck with President Mugabe through thick and thin.
Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reports that civil society leaders opening a two-day convention dubbed the “People’s Convention” dismissed Makoni’s candidacy on Friday, issuing the warning that Zimbabweans should be on their guard against what they called a ruling party scheme to divide the opposition in March elections.
Makoni’s candidacy has drawn mixed reactions across the political spectrum.
The ruling party has reviled him as a “traitor" while one leading liberation war veteran issued a thinly veiled threat. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai has called him an "opportunist," while the rival faction headed by Arthur Mutambara has welcomed Makoni's entry as a candidate.
There have been persistent rumors of a Makoni-Mutambara alliance in the making.
Reporter Caroline Gombakomba sought perspective on Makoni's positioning from two political observers: columnist Pius Wakatama, a spokesman for the Christian Alliance, and Chido Makunike, a political commentator and blogger based in Senegal.
Though many have voiced reservations about Makoni's intentions, Wakatama said the former cabinet member's bid to become Zimbabwe’s next president has generated a lot of excitement on the ground and changed the very nature of the contest.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...