The point at which Zimbabwe is, in terms of political developments, is exciting. There are a number of initiatives and suggestions which we all believe are motivated by a desire to see a truly democratic Zimbabwe.
SUNDAY OPINION BY KUDZAI KWANGWARI
The president of the MDC-T Morgan Tsvangirai is running a campaign to try and push for electoral reforms through grassroots pressure, though he failed to achieve this during the life of the inclusive government when he used to meet his protagonist, President Robert Mugabe weekly, for tea. Unfortunately, every other development initiative in this country is now centred on elections — a situation that keeps the country forever in election mode. People now think in terms of either power retention or power gain instead of genuine development policy issues. This has been exacerbated by debilitating levels of polarisation and economic malaise.
In the last few months there has been talk and murmurs about a possible coalition of “other” political parties into an electoral pact to contest against Zanu PF. These parties and political groups include MDC-T, MDC led by Welshman Ncube, Zapu, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, People’s Democratic Party, and People First. The justification is that together, they stand a better chance of dislodging Zanu PF and launching a new political pad in Zimbabwe where perhaps the former ruling party will be a strong opposition.
The reasons and motivation for this move could be many and different, but the interest of the author is to just give some insights into the possible political implications of the move. The desire to form coalitions is, in my view, a sign of political desperation as opposed to political strategy. It is important for political parties to develop individual political muscle to deal with the ruling party, rather than rely on short-lived coalitions. If former Vice-President Joice Mujuru is confident that the people of Zimbabwe want, prefer, or sympathise with her, then she must go for it as a political party or even as an individual, and the same applies for Makoni, Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa, or any other player for that matter.
Will coalitions promote the growth of democracy or not? In countries where multi-party democracy is subsisting and flourishing, political parties are many and they are allowed to operate freely and to contest each other in any election. The reason why they are different is because they have different philosophies and ideologies where manifestos and programmes of action are developed. In other words, it creates political competition such that the political parties compete to serve the citizens, without which we end up with political monopoly, a situation we experienced here in Zimbabwe until recently. The net effect of it is that it reduces the range of political choice and options that citizens have. We would want a situation where citizens can shop around for a political party of their preference. This may actually result in voter apathy.
So, having said this, bringing political parties in a coalition kills the necessary birth of a functioning multi-party democracy. While I am oblivious of the serious misgivings of the ruling party, I still think that each and every political party must stand on its own, informed and persuaded by what it views as a socio and political solution to Zimbabwe. Otherwise removing Zanu PF cannot be a reasonable political agendum in itself without progressively looking at what then is the next government going to do to serve Zimbabwe. We cannot aim at reducing political diversity and pluralism simply because Zanu PF must be removed. It will amount to political myopia.
What are we saying about the principles and values of the different political parties which are going to be inevitably compromised because of this proposed coalition? If you bring MDC-T, MDC (N) or (M), Zapu, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, and other parties together, excluding Zanu PF, are we proposing that these parties have a lot of similarities and they can easily become one, though temporarily? I think it is not good and it is ill-considered. The electorate will lose something as a result of this move.
Let’s not forget that we had a coalition government where three parties were ruling and the way it was functioning left a sour taste in the mouth with a lot of useless noises and an absence of policy consensus and clarity. The parties in government then were hardly moved by what improves the quality of life for all Zimbabweans, but by the need to protect or gain political power at all costs, which is not good for national development.
Instead, each political party must stand on its own campaign and win elections using its own political strategies.
I, however, think that this should then be backed by a culture of constitutionalism, which at the moment is deficient. This will encourage robust debate in parliament and political parties will keep an eye on each other to avoid corruption and other nefarious practices. Opposition political parties and civil society will offer necessary checks and balances.
If we really want multi-party democracy, all parties must just compete, otherwise anything else will show that we don’t trust the democracy that we talk about so much that it has become a buzz word of our national political discourse. Otherwise, our efforts must be on political education so that political parties cease to rely and trust violence as a political tool. We must all work to create a peaceful environment where the rights of citizens, including the right to be wrong, is respected by all. Where citizens are free to express themselves without fear or hindrance and where their choice is sanctified — where political players — including civil society organisations (CSOs), have equal access to both public and private media. Where political parties and CSOs have easy access to all constituencies to campaign and not necessarily de-campaign. We cannot have political campaigns with 80% decampaigning and mudslinging material, while 20% is pure campaigning. It is not healthy and it creates a fertile ground for political violence.
So, let’s forget about political pacts and coalitions, they are dangerous for the growth of democracy and in order for democracy to get established and rooted, we must learn to trust and work for it. Otherwise we are beginning to express desires of one-party state philosophically. All political parties must be accorded equal respect regardless of perceived size or accomplishments.
In the 1980s, there were clear attempts to have a one-party state in Zimbabwe and those efforts resulted in the silencing — if not elimination — of Zapu, which was a strong opposition and today we “celebrate” that on December 22 each year as Unity Day. Are we not going to see the political parties in the proposed coalition coming up with another unity accord which will be given another beautiful name after having won an election together and then start fighting? I hope not.
Lastly, all political parties in this country must be readying themselves to participate in an election and not coming together so that they win against Zanu PF. Each political party must have a programme for this country that it presents to all Zimbabweans for a political decision. Otherwise, they (political parties) cannot relax and hope that they will ride on each other’s history and reputation or popularity. Every party must work to win and gain support. That is the democracy that we all want.