Between the last week of September and October 1 2012, dominating media head-lines pointed to the effect that general elections have been set for March 31 2013.
On closer reading, it turned out that the “declaration of an election date” had been the statement of “a wish” by President Robert Mugabe, as part of his court submissions to postpone the holding of by-elections for three vacant parliamentary seats in Matabeleland. The wish was granted by the High Court, which ordered that “the period within which to comply with the order (to hold by-elections) be and is hereby further extended to the 31st of March 2013”.
In my humble opinion, Mugabe’s “wish” is setting us on a good path. We need to know as an electorate and as citizens when we will be able to vote for a national leadership of our choice. We need to know when key political processes that are significant markers towards our democratic transformation will take place. The voting public must be kept in the loop.
It is important to do the right thing, but it is best to do the right thing, the right way. The President and those who support him, are constantly in the habit of subverting due process and pretending that they are living in a pre-2008 Zimbabwe.
The reality is that this is 2012, and the three political parties, all have to weigh in, especially at executive level, on key issues like when the next elections will be held, share incumbency in government. It doesn’t matter whether the President likes the Industry and Commerce minister or not (Welshman Ncube), the reality is that Mugabe has to consult Ncube on these key issues and both of them have to agree with Morgan Tsvangirai.
All of them have to make an effort to ensure that elections, whenever they agree to hold them, are not a façade, but a real opportunity for people to exercise their freedom in choosing who governs them.
Having said that, you will be hard pressed to find any other country where the citizens are kept in the dark about critical democratic processes where people decide their destiny and hold their leaders to account.
You would think that a country which spares no blushes in bringing out the private sex lives of consenting adults would have no qualms with bringing out critical information of public interest and concern. The people have a right to know when critical processes that have a bearing on the country’s political and economic prospects will take place.
The argument has been made that the Zimbabwean transition, is pegged, not in terms of time but in terms of steps to be taken before an election can take place. This is good, but the challenge that we have seen in Zimbabwe is that when politicians are given such a blank cheque, they have no imperative to perform and or deliver. They will constantly push to see the depth of the account that they have to draw the blank cheque from.
It is precisely because of this false impression that the inclusive government seems to exist in perpetuity that has seen little to no progress taking place in terms of some of the key steps that need to be taken before an election takes place.
The inclusive government was established on the strength of a Global Political Agreement (GPA), which was pitched as a high-level solution to the political malaise that had become the order of the day in Zimbabwe. By its own admission, as cited in the GPA, the inclusive government was intended to:
“Create a genuine, viable, permanent, sustainable and nationally acceptable solution to the Zimbabwe situation.”
Sponsored and guaranteed by the Sadc and the AU as an “African solution to an African problem”, the inclusive government was meant to be an experiment in national stability and democratisation, with the GPA providing the theory of change that propelled and dictated how the government would operate and what it should have achieved.
In short, the GPA was predicated on the hypothesis that, an inclusive approach to governing and problem-solving by the three major political parties represented in parliament, with the GPA as a guide, would result in the reduction of political instability, arrest of the economic free-fall, halt the humanitarian crisis and institute democratic reforms — generally providing an inclusive approach to the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis.
What the GPA provided for was a clear entry into the inclusive arrangement and a roadmap on how to navigate in the maze of reform. What it didn’t clearly spell out, outside providing a map, was how long these parties had to navigate the maze of reform. The GPA provided an entry, but was very unclear with regards to an exit.
Our political leaders need to sit down and discuss two critical issues. Firstly, they should posit what they think is a realistic electoral calendar for the two critical electoral processes, the Referendum on the Constitution and general elections.
In other countries that have undergone transitions like ours, the calendar was always clear and stakeholders had a clock to race. Kenya, which mirrors the GPA and inclusive government, is a good example.
They had their political disputes on the eve of 2008 and eventually agreed on a GNU. They had their constitutional reform process concluded in 2010. As of now, Kenyans know that they have a general election on March 4 2013, and that if those elections are not conclusive, there will be a run-off election on April 10 2013.
Secondly, once an agreement has been reached on a clear and dated electoral calendar, there is need to reiterate the things that need to be done by way of concrete electoral reforms to facilitate that the two critical processes are carried out in a free and fair manner.
The actual issues to be dealt with are: keeping the military out of politics, cleaning up the voters’ role, instituting an impartial arbiter in elections through a professional elections management body, expressing a disdain for the use of violence in elections and the need to have these elections internationally observed and monitored.
These things need to be done within a realistic time frame that is cognisant of our realities as a country if we are to have an environment conducive to free political expression, free political activity and subsequently the holding of free and fair elections.