Nelson Chamisa will run as the opposition’s presidential candidate in Zimbabwe’s elections later this year, the Movement for Democratic Change announced on Thursday, after the death of stalwart leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai, who was a thorn in the side of recently ousted leader Robert Mugabe for decades, died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer.
The MDC “noted the power vacuum created by the departure of our iconic leader Tsvangirai and unanimously agreed that Chamisa will be the acting President of the party for the next 12 months,” MDC Vice Chairman, Morgan Komichi said.
“This means that he is the party’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming election,” said Komichi.
Zimbabweans will go to the polls in the coming months – a date has not yet been set – in the first election in over 30 years not to have Mugabe, 93, as a presidential candidate.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after he was forced out by a military coup in November, will run as the ruling Zanu-PF party’s presidential candidate.
Earlier, President Emmerson Mnangagwa led tributes to late Tsvangirai, describing the long-time rival of recently ousted president Robert Mugabe as a dedicated defender of democracy.
Tsvangirai will receive a state funeral, but will not be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre, largely reserved for ruling Patriotic Front guerrillas killed during the independence war, Mnangagwa said.
“He remained a national figure who obdurately insisted on free, fair, credible and non-violent elections as a way of strengthening our democracy,” Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in November after he was forced to stand down by the military, said in a statement.
In political terms, the ruling ZANU-PF party and Mnangagwa, who paid a personal visit to Tsvangirai in January, stand to gain from the opposition leader’s death, due to fighting within the MDC over who should succeed its founding father.
The party’s National Council announced that its vice president, Nelson Chamisa, was taking the role of acting president following Tsvangirai’s death.
The MDC described Tsvangirai as a hero who had “left his footprints on the sands of history”, in large part through his tussles – both literal and figurative – with Mugabe.
Tsvangirai suffered repeated abuse and harassment from Zimbabwe’s security and intelligence services, including a 2007 beating in police custody that left him with a badly swollen face and a deep gash in his head.
Scores of his supporters were beaten and killed during campaigning for a 2008 election that eventually resulted in four-year unity government with Tsvangirai serving as prime minister to Mugabe’s president.
The tense relationship between the two was tempered by moments of respect and humor, and the pair once joked about Tsvangirai fearing Mugabe would try to poison him when they started their custom of taking afternoon tea together every Monday.
In central Harare, crowds of people wearing bright red MDC t-shirts gathered outside the party headquarters. Many wept with grief.