AS Zimbabwe seeks rehabilitation into the international community, one of the tasks that it has to undertake is to demonstrate that it has moved forward since the 2000 general election. Let the byword for contest
ants in the March 2005 parliamentary election be “peace and more peace”. It is vital that we hold an election that is not only free and fair but is also seen by all impartial observers to be just that.
The Zengeza by-election at the end of the month could mark a turning point if all contesting parties work to ensure a free and fair poll. The two main parties, the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have an opportunity to set the tone for the conduct of future elections.
While it is clear that in Zengeza the stakes will be very low compared to next year’s parliamentary election, politicians must understand that it is never too early to learn a new ethos of tolerance. They must know that in the global village in which we live, victory in an election is no longer simply in the numbers but in the methods as well. One must win the hearts and minds of the people before they claim legitimacy. Winning an election by hook or crook is almost a certain way to national stagnation.
The consent of the governed to the governor’s rule is critical for any leader to be able to implement national policies.
Legitimacy does not derive solely from voters. It also involves the outside world which has much influence on internal governance. Current world political and economic dynamics make it difficult for leaders to impose their will on the people through bogus elections. Elections must go beyond the ritual of merely legitimising self-imposed leaders.
The intertwining of economics and politics has had the effect of redefining sovereignty. The rigid doctrine of non-interference in internal affairs has been replaced by a limited yet strong concept of sovereignty. It is no longer possible for leaders who steal elections and oppress their own people to also enjoy unrestricted global acceptance. We have more than sufficient evidence of this since the hotly-disputed 2002 presidential election.
While President Mugabe was declared the winner, many Zimbabweans felt MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had been robbed — not of victory as such — but of an opportunity to contest a free and fair poll.
The election was characterised by widespread political violence and intimidation, a profoundly-flawed legislative framework, administrative incompetence and bungling, fear and general hostility.
Government supporters and partisan elements from the uniformed forces were deployed to run elections, while electoral laws were changed until the very last day to ensure the “right” outcome.
Zimbabwe has never held a genuinely free and fair election since independence in 1980. Not that PF Zapu or any other party would have won in 1980. The point is that the whole process was contaminated by dirty tricks that prevented a free and fair election.
Violence was rampant in 1985, the bloodiest in the country’s history, and in 1990, 2000 and 2002. Violence was limited in the 1995/96 elections largely because Zanu PF and Mugabe were not under serious challenge.
South African president Thabo Mbeki’s recent remarks on his ANC Today online publication on free and fair election are very instructive.
“To succeed in everything we have to do requires that we have a system of governance that enjoys the popular support and confidence of the masses of our people,” Mbeki said.
“This system must have the legitimacy born of the fact of being freely and democratically mandated by the people. Free and fair elections are therefore fundamental to our capacity to implement the people-centred transformation agenda.”
Mbeki further says: “Certainly, we cannot allow that the freedom space created by the democratic system is abused to undermine the very system that creates this space.
“Nobody should therefore make the mistake of thinking that democracy gives him or her the right to threaten or use force, in reality to take away the very rights that define our democratic system.”
Democracy in Zimbabwe has been corrupted by a phoney refusal by those in power to accept that not every Zimbabwean needed to cross the border into Mozambique to secure our liberty. It is a foolish demand by a selfish clique. That notwithstanding, let’s use the Zengeza by-election to show that we are mature and can conduct a peaceful election.