I would like to suggest that the season demands and requires leaders who will look beyond narrow sectarian, personal and party interests and put the country first. We should not allow our judgment to be eclipsed by the here and now especially the hype about elections which usually culminates in us sacrificing our values, vision, priorities and intimately interwoven with this, the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.
The Global Political Agreement (GPA) with its numerous flaws offers a reasonable roadmap for the country for at least the next three to four years of transition which we needed for constitutional, legislative and institutional reform, national healing, economic stability and growth.
There is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness about the inevitability of elections albeit in an overtly unfair and uneven political playing field epitomised by growing political tension, the arrest of journalists, an incomplete constitutional reform process and the proposed draconian legislation limiting public access to critical information. In the midst of this I would like to explore several options that could be considered by progressive Zimbabweans. They are not exhaustive or conclusive but are an invitation to a conversation about our nation offering a framework of alternative proactive action.
Who says everybody has to dance to the tune of one person and one party by blindly participating in elections. One option would be to take the initiative from President Robert Mugabe by boycotting elections unless minimal demands are met. This would have the effect of isolating Zanu PF and its leader and to highlight the gravity of the political crisis to the international community. It would also delegitimise whatever government comes into place. Hopefully this stance would force Sadc to intervene before such an election.
However a poll boycott does have its downside. First of all Mugabe and Zanu PF could simply ignore the boycott and continue with business as usual as they did in the inconsequential one-man 2008 presidential second round poll. The action would only embarrass Sadc and Mugabe but we all know that embarrassment may not be enough to stop Zanu PF as they have become insulated to it. Furthermore, a boycott could take us back by another 10 years as the next election would be in another five years. Zanu PF would be unopposed and there would be no alternative representation. The gains made in the post 2008 period would be reversed in one fell swoop as a partisan parliament would pass more repressive legislation. Investor confidence (what is left of it) will dwindle and there could be scaling up of “restrictive measures and sanctions”. The Chiadzwa diamonds could come in handy in propping up the regime although a ban of exports of the mineral is likely to be intensified. In the interests of the nation a poll boycott would mean a lot of pain for the people of Zimbabwe in the short to medium term.
The objective of such an action would be to force Sadc, the African Union and the international community to push for comprehensive political and economic reforms. The poll boycott strategy would only work if understood in the context of strategic action and as a means to an end not an end itself. This option is thus possible but ineffective but would work as an act of political melodrama to gain leverage to negotiate for an even playing field. At best it would work as a threat and not something to be actually done. The opposition should count the cost before it engages in this act which could either be a sacrifice resulting in long term gain, but conversely could be a form of advanced political suicide if not done properly.
There is a school of thought especially in sections of civil society that elections should only be held only if certain minimum demands are met. Such minimum demands are limited to election related issues such as the immediate political environment, targeted legislative reform, regional and international election observers and provision of constitutional mechanisms for transfer of power.
This approach seems to be the most realistic, but is based on a set of assumptions, the most important being that these minimalist demands will be met. I seriously doubt that Zanu PF will agree to international observers as this will play into “the West is interfering” propaganda. Peripheral and window dressing reform will be made as is the case already with proposals that election results be announced within reasonable time. In countries such as Kenya and Tanzania incumbents have used this to claim early victories and have quickly sworn themselves in.
The only sure way of wresting power from the incumbent in an election under the current conditions is for opposition parties to form a sort of rainbow coalition. They may not want to be called opposition parties but the reality is that in terms of power they are an opposition and Zanu PF for now is controlling the unity government. My argument is that these parties have to agree on an electoral pact under which they would back one candidate in the presidential elections.
The three things that stand in the way of such an arrangement are inflated egos, insatiable political appetites and ideological differences. It is pertinent and imperative for the leaders of MDC-T, MDC-M, Simba Makoni and other progressive forces to come together and form a loose coalition within the framework of an electoral pact which would enshrine a formula for fielding candidates in various constituencies and, importantly, one candidate for the presidential elections.
Opposition party leaders should put aside their differences and put the national interest above partisan interests. Our leaders will have to put aside their political egos and immediately start working towards such a pact as a matter of urgency instead of wasting time castigating each other and grandstanding.
An analysis of political behaviour in the last 10 years shows that though this is the most desirable scenario , our “winner take all, nation gains nothing” attitude may be our biggest enemy. The two MDC factions were on the verge of an agreement in the run up to the 2008 harmonised elections, but, alas, insanity and expediency prevailed over reason and the two parties contested against each other and supported different candidates. Consequently unnecessary losses were recorded in places such as Mazoe South were the two MDC candidates posted a combined vote of 5 453 against Zanu PF’s 4 109.
Realistically, some opposition parties do not seem to add any value to the electoral and democratic experience as displayed by some of the 13 parties that contested in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Moreprecision Muzadzi ‘S Voice of the People Party showed little precision garnering 63 votes nationwide whilst the Zimbabwe Youth In Alliance garnered seven votes. Obviously alliances with such parties would not be politically cost-effective but the strength of Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu and the key role it could play in the transfer of power equation cannot be ignored, neither can the value Of MDC-M’s political talent combined with the mass appeal of the MDC-T and the charisma of Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as the intelligence of Simba Makoni.
The combined political weight of Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Arthur Mutambara, Welshman Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa and Makoni will literally decimate Zanu PF in any election even if the ruling party were to resort to violence. These leaders should realise the importance of running together in this important national race where the biggest winners will be the Zimbabwean people.
In the first round of the 2008 presidential race Tsvangirai garnered 1 1079,730 (approximately 47,9 % ) of the votes against Mugabe’s 1 079,730 (43,2 % of the vote), with Simba Makoni (backed by MDC-M) garnering 207 470 votes (about 8,3 %of the votes). Simple arithmetic infers that if MDC-T, MDC-M and the Mavambo project had backed one candidate, in that case Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s political history and indeed future would have been different. Obviously these parties and their leaders differ on ideological grounds but when a house is on fire the identity, religion and political opinion of those trying to put out the fire ceases to be important. Interparty talks between the three parties are therefore critical. This alliance should then demand that elections be held in conformity with the Sadc Guidelines and Principles on the Conduct of Democratic Elections which espouse the creation of a level electoral playing field. Observers from Sadc and other countries should be in the country at least 90 days before election day so that they can monitor the pre-election environment which is usually fraught with violence, and not the actual voting day only as this tends to be a largely political ritual carried out to the satisfaction of those observing election day processes.
It is unlikely that observers from the EU will be accredited to observe the polls. Whilst this may be desirable it may be impossible because of official paranoia and “devil behind every bush” philosophy held so dearly by Zanu PF. The voters roll needs to be updated and accessible, the state media accessible to all political parties and repressive legislation reviewed
The best option
The best route remains the full implementation of the GPA with emphasis on constitutional and institutional reform, national healing not national dealing, and economic stability and growth. Elections for now are a costly shortcut. We need to script a new framework that provides for democratisation of state institutions and processes as well as a conducive environment for investment and growth. Our preoccupation with elections could result in negative imaging culminating in continued lack of investors, increased unemployment and decline in wages as a result of further fall in capacity utilisation in the industrial sector.
I know others argue that there are too many centres of power in the current government hence decision making is problematic, but we have to view this as an evolutionary process not a once-off revolution which may result in a change of actors but maintain the script. Efforts should continue to prove to Sadc that unless the Zimbabwean crisis /stalemate is resolved it could have dire consequences on the peace, security and economic wellbeing of the entire sub-region. This is especially so for South Africa which could face a fresh influx of immigrants from Zimbabwe thus causing unrest in the socio-economic and political architecture of the country thus heightening xenophobia and political tension.
The roadmap provided by the GPA is shaky but ensures that we are not just preparing for a democratic election but rather democratic governance characterised by democratic processes, laws and institutions.
Dumisani Nkomo is the chief executive officer and spokesperson of the Matabeleland Civil Society Consortium–Habakkuk Trust. He writes here in his personal capacity. Email: email@example.com.