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What’s the MDC doing?



If the date for the harmonised presidential, parliamentary and local government elections is not changed, which looks likely, we can safel

y say we are left with just two months before that crucial event takes place. Yet given the dithering and prevarication in opposition ranks, one gets the impression that it is the Americans who are voting in March and Zimbabweans in November.


We must quickly admit that we don’t have intimate details of what is going on behind the scenes at the inter-party talks between the ruling Zanu PF party and the MDC. We believe the voting public is equally searching for signals. But faced with the myriad problems besetting the country, most of us are more preoccupied with our daily struggles than what the outcome of the Pretoria talks is going to be.


President Robert Mugabe has already said there will be no new constitution before the March elections. He is likely to have his way given the endorsement he received from his party at the December extraordinary congress. On the other hand, the MDC now insists a so-called “transitional constitution” and a delayed election have become the sticking points at the talks. The question on many people’s minds is whether a transitional constitution is the same as a new constitution, which has already been rejected by the ruling party. There is also confusion among ordinary people whether a break-up of the current talks in South Africa is the same thing as a boycott of the elections themselves.


It is not for us to dictate to the MDC when it should start campaigning. It might turn out that it is a tactical decision. To the extent that its supporters know this, it is fine. Only in the past elections we have not seen the benefits of this apparent indecision.


There are genuine concerns in the MDC leadership that politically-motivated violence against its supporters has not abated. There is still no visibility of its members on national television, yet we don’t know what they have been promised at the talks. And time is clearly running out for the opposition given that Zanu PF has already started campaigning. We can be sure there will be fireworks as soon as President Robert Mugabe returns from his annual leave. Is that perhaps the time when the MDC will clarify to its supporters what is going on?


It was MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in his Christmas message who stated that the talks with Zanu PF were getting deadlocked on the two key issues: a new constitution before elections and postponement of the elections. He said Zanu PF was backtracking on “agreements” reached in Pretoria. The implication here is that all other points have been resolved to the MDC’s satisfaction.


Still there are questions to be answered here. We know Zanu PF is reluctant to hold an election under a new constitution which will reduce its grip on state resources and allow the opposition equal coverage in the public media. What is not clear is at what stage the MDC felt a new constitution was the most critical issue in the elections so soon after voting with Zanu PF in parliament on September 20 in favour of Constitutional Amendment 18?


It sounds naïve to claim that they supported the amendment because they had been promised a new constitution before the elections. What would be the point of an amendment that is followed by a new constitution?


Needless to say this doesn’t inspire confidence in the party’s decision-making process. It was this same amendment which brought us an expanded senate when the MDC split in 2005 allegedly over a smaller one.


But our concern over the Zanu PF/MDC talks now goes deeper than that. The reason the MDC wants the elections postponed, we are told, is because they want the “transitional constitution” to take root. In other words this is not about a referendum to give the people of Zimbabwe a chance to craft their constitution. It is all about swapping horses at State House.


How can a make-or-break document (what Tsvangirai calls agreements) about the future of Zimbabwe be drawn up in secrecy and we are expected to merely endorse it? Have the talks in South Africa been turned into another Lancaster House conference in which the people of Zimbabwe had no role?


There is a creeping sense in which it appears the MDC is beginning to behave much like Zanu PF in its belief that people don’t matter so long as they keep claiming to represent them. Despite the grave leadership weaknesses, the MDC seems to have made itself the final arbiter between the people and Zanu PF and only itself can confer or withhold legitimacy by deciding to vote or boycott elections.


This is dangerous arrogance and the MDC needs to be warned not to overstretch its luck by taking people’s support too much for granted. Needless to say the mass exodus of Zimbabweans to the diaspora is as much a response to Zanu PF’s disastrous rule as it is disillusionment with the MDC’s increasing resemblance to Zanu PF — it has no clue about ending the political crisis. Time is running out and there is need for decisiveness in the MDC.

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