By Professor Jonathan Moyo
NOW that the dust has settled on the rather desperate propaganda by Zanu PF and the two MDC factions that the 18th constitutional amendment is
a negotiated breakthrough within the Sadc-mandated mediation in Zimbabwe, the one burning issue that most Zimbabweans still want clarified is whether on its own the amendment has any national significance beyond offering President Robert Mugabe a Machiavellian opportunity to smuggle his ambition to rule for life.
Although this has been ignored or misunderstood, the 18th amendment contains an important but unintended national significance along with its intended personal purpose of seeking to bolster Mugabe’s grip on power. The unintended national importance is that, by reducing the presidential term from six to five years to synchronise it with that of parliament and local government councils with effect from March 2008, the amendment effectively calls for an early and much needed general election to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis.
In a constitutional democracy, which Zimbabwe is struggling to become, the only way citizens can respond to a biting national crisis is through a general election. The fact that the 18th amendment allows for an early general election which was otherwise due in 2010 explains why it was strategically wise for the opposition to vote with Zanu PF in support of the amendment notwithstanding the apparent limits of its intended objectives.
Claims by some opposition elements that the 18th amendment is a confidence-building measure are a pipedream based on a hopeless leap in the dark. The same goes for expectations that Zanu PF will agree to a new constitution before the 2008 election.
Any ruling party that agrees to opposition demands for a new constitution ahead of a general election exposes itself to assured electoral defeat. Zanu PF learnt this after the failed referendum on the draft constitution in 2000. Therefore the best that can be achieved with the prodding of the Sadc mediation are amendments to a range of laws that impinge on electoral politics.
Otherwise the good news is already with us and it is that, because of the adoption of the 18th constitutional amendment, battered Zimbabweans now have a real opportunity through a massive early general election next March to resolve the widening and deepening meltdown in the country by booting out Mugabe and his henchmen who have become incurably clueless in the face of crippling problems facing the country.
Of course Mugabe hopes to win that early election but his hope is based on his fatal presumption that the splintered opposition, which now includes significant elements from Zanu PF, will remain divided. Yet the writing is now on the wall that Mugabe’s electoral chances in March 2008 are between slim and none, whatever the state of the opposition which is anyhow set for a dramatic transformation.
The powerful message from angry masses and the dispossessed middle and upper classes is that if the early 2008 general election should be rigged, it would be against Mugabe whose continued stay in office has become irretrievably catastrophic for Zimbabwe.
There is nobody, especially within Zanu PF, who genuinely and seriously believes that Mugabe should seek reelection let alone that he should be reelected after his 27 years of controversial rule whose final days have turned Zimbabwe into a living hell.
Mugabe’s dwindling loyalists, who are trying to turn his personality cult into a principle and an ideology above the national interest, actually understand that Mugabe is now a damaging liability to the nation despite their public pretences to the contrary. That is why a major intended objective of the 18th amendment is the dissolution of parliament in which Zanu PF has a secure and commanding two-thirds majority along with the dissolution of rural and urban councils, the majority of which are controlled by the ruling party.
This astonishing dissolution will be done to ensure that every ward and constituency in the country will have an aspiring Zanu PF councillor, a would-be Zanu PF member of the House of Assembly and a Zanu PF Senate hopeful who will campaign for themselves as they will for Mugabe as a necessary matter of self-interest against the national interest.
Clearly Mugabe is desperate for support. In the past, it used to be the aspiring Zanu PF council and parliamentary candidates who could not do without Mugabe’s support in their election campaigns. Now it’s him.
There is no single case in the history of civilised nations where a ruling party with a two-thirds majority in the legislature has dissolved that legislature only for the purpose of ensuring that its unpopular president does not seek reelection to face humiliation alone.
The dissolution of the Zanu PF two-thirds majority in parliament is therefore unprecedented but telling. That is why the affected Zanu PF parliamentarians are not amused even a bit. And that is also why there is so much turmoil in the increasingly divided Zanu PF ranks less than six months before the general election.
Ironically, Mugabe’s securocrats and bureaucrats have not understood that the dissolution of parliament in which the ruling party has a two-thirds majority is certain to boomerang as it can only benefit the opposition which now has an early opportunity to close ranks and take full advantage of the economic hardships in the country to at least eliminate that majority and even to win it all.
A wiser strategy for Zanu PF would have been to keep the current two-thirds majority in parliament as political insurance in the event of a likely defeat in the presidential election and to use that majority to impeach the opposition winner. With the economy in the doldrums and with Mugabe and his wayward ministers unable to do anything about that besides making idle threats of company takeovers, Zanu PF is now inside the jaws of defeat waiting to be crushed.
The evidence that Mugabe is nervous to the bones about this is not only shown by the impending irrational dissolution of parliament in which Zanu PF has a two-thirds majority but also by Mugabe’s convening of a special congress of the ruling party in December when he does not have to.
The few securocrats and bureaucrats behind Mugabe’s doomed reelection campaign are going around claiming that a Zanu PF special congress in December can only have one agenda item which is to confirm and endorse Mugabe as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in the general election next March. But that is mumbo jumbo.
In the first place, it is not true that in terms of the Zanu PF constitution a special congress is called only for a single issue. The true position is that a special Zanu PF congress is called to deal with those special issues, whether few or many, that are unique to the circumstances necessitating it. There is no requirement that there must be only one issue.
In the second place, in terms of the Zanu PF constitution, the confirmation and endorsement of the party’s president and first secretary as the candidate in a presidential election does not require a special congress. In fact, the annual people’s conference of Zanu PF is required to declare, without debate, the party’s president and first secretary as its presidential candidate. That is what happened in 2001 ahead of the 2002 presidential election.
Because it is the highest organ of the party, a congress, whether special or ordinary, can raise from the floor any issue including who should be the Zanu PF president and first secretary. As things stand, the securocrats and bureaucrats who have fooled a nervous Mugabe into calling a special congress have actually set him up for a real challenge to his failed leadership.
Unless he seizes the initiative and acts now to allow for a successor, the possibility of a palace coup against Mugabe at the special congress in December has become real.
This explains why Mugabe suddenly expects the Mnangagwa faction, the so-called Tsholotsho group, to support his reelection bid against the Mujuru faction. Yet the fact is that he is now deeply mistrusted within both factions. In 2004 he abused the Mnangagwa faction and in 2007 he is abusing the Mujuru faction.
Whereas it is true that in politics there are only permanent interests and no permanent friends or permanent enemies, it is nevertheless clear that there is no permanent interest in Mugabe’s 2008 reelection bid. The only obvious permanent interest is that the time for Mugabe to go peacefully has come and he needs to be told this without fear or favour.
So if there is one sure thing that Zimbabwe does not need today, it is Mugabe’s presidency. Enough is enough. Thanks to the adoption of the 18th constitutional amendment, Zimbabweans have a wonderful early opportunity to show Mugabe the exit door at the polls through a united, patriotic people’s front of nationalist progressives from across the political divide as the only real solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.