The scenario is different in other societies, including ours, where power is retained through social coercion and propaganda, manipulation of different state arms along with downright violence against dissenting voices.
An interesting case has arisen again in Zimbabwe where the upcoming referendum has been rendered insignificant as it threatens political interests. If done in the spirit of achieving long-term national good, the referendum can result in restraint on the corrupting privileges enjoyed under the current set-up and as such it is unpopular among those that would want the status quo to remain intact.
Secondly, the current political dispensation has created a political culture where political negotiations and outcomes supersede the will of the people expressed electorally or otherwise.
A simple trend analysis points towards possibilities of a constitution negotiated along political lines. The fact that the constitution will precede an election will intensify contestation as the political party whose position gets popular approval in the referendum will likely hold the aces going into an election.
If lessons are to be drawn from the 2000 referendum, people’s choices will be determined more by their political parties’ preferred positions as opposed to what the constitution guarantees them. The 2000 referendum, arguably, became the first demonstration of negative public opinion for the political monopoly that had existed since independence.
The current obsession with ultimate power by sections of the inclusive government has made strategists, political commentators and opinion leaders frame the next presidential election as the most important in post-independence Zimbabwe.
Due to political contestation, the significance of the constitution-making process as well as the referendum has been lost among ordinary citizens. However, these two processes should lay the foundation not only for short-term political processes but for creation of independent arms of the state that sufficiently counter-balance each other.
The centrality of the constitution to long-term stability can be understood in the context of how it will outlive the GPA and all its principals. Societies famed for upholding individual freedoms have well-developed institutions derived from people-centred constitutions and if Zimbabweans aspire for those levels of tolerance and peaceful co-existence, the constitution and referendum ought to be more important than presidential elections.
There is little doubt that the current inclusive government has been able to offer more political goods than previous governments hence calls for elections represent nothing more than wishes for a winner-takes-all form of government. In our context, a one-party government means tolerance for corruption and governance malpractice in the name of patronage.
Any meaningful discussions on elections now should be on the referendum because contrary to political posturing, the referendum should be the election of the decade if Zimbabwe is to move towards more meaningful governance.
The dialogue of elections is incomplete in that we are missing the fact that the referendum is also an election that we should be wary of equally well or even more considering that we are likely to record more voters than in the other elections.
The referendum, to me, will define the political landscape. Depending on the outcome of the referendum Zimbabwe is likely to enter a new dispensation.
As people opinionate over this negotiated constitution that will come our way, opinions will once again be drawn along political lines.
I have proposed some scenarios to explain possible referendum outcomes.
The first is when the parties in the inclusive government will agree on the draft and then the people of Zimbabwe will rally behind their political leaders and support them by giving the needed “Yes” vote. This is arguably the best scenario and easiest one if the parties are serious about wanting a less contested presidential election and the transition we all need.
The second scenario is one where politicians agree but the civil society and some sections of the society do not and likewise stage a campaign for a “No” vote.
This will be interesting as political party leaders will try to silence dissenting voices.This scenario is likely to be so if the political parties want to reduce the document into a political settlement that does not in any way reflect the needs of the people.
This third scenario is where the two parties continue to fight along part positions. This scenario is most likely if the political parties refuse to divorce constitution-making from immediate political gains.