The death of Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has left his party in disarray ahead of presidential elections later this year.
Tsvangirai, who led the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, died Wednesday at the age of 65 from colon cancer.
He had been nominated to run against President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the presidential vote expected in the first half of this year but indicated last month he was considering bowing out of the race after undergoing treatment, saying it was time to leave his party in “new hands.”
While the MDC on Thursday appointed Nelson Chamisa, 40, as acting party president for 12 months, he may face challenges from deputy leaders Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe.
On their Twitter accounts, the three men have each claimed to be the official party voice and speak for Tsvangirai, fueling media speculation that they’re locked in a power struggle.
“The fear for the opposition is that his sad passing will exacerbate the ongoing leadership battle in the party, which may cause it to split or otherwise be in disarray ahead of polling,” said Derek Matyszak, senior research consultant at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
The party has previously splintered with senior officials Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube forming their own parties.
Chamisa, a lawyer, was widely seen as Tsvangirai’s favored successor. Khupe is MDC’s longest-serving vice president and holds an information technology degree, while Mudzuri is an engineer with a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former mayor of Harare.
Tsvangirai’s death comes only three months after the ousting of Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until the military seized control in November 2017 and forced him to resign.
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front named Mnangagwa to succeed him. A date for the presidential election hasn’t yet been announced.
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