Candid Comment

A naked ploy to cushion Zanu PF

Joram Nyathi

PLANS by government to register all political parties in Zimbabwe show not only that we have irresponsible leaders, but also that there is a sinister motive to this measure. They are irresponsible becau

se they betray misplaced priorities.

In a crisis such as we face in Zimbabwe, people expect government to be working to alleviate their suffering. It is hard to see how registering political parties for whatever reason can be a priority for any government that feels anything but contempt for those who voted it into power.

There is a sinister motive too.

Although the recommendation was first mooted by a supposedly independent electoral body last year, there is no question about the influence behind it. Much like the registration of media houses and the accreditation of journalists, it is Zanu PF that sets the ground rules and determines who gets registered under its own conditions.

The same paranoid mind that conceived legislation like Aippa and Posa is evidently at work once again.

There is nothing edifying in telling us that registration of political parties will rid the country of “rogue parties”.

Who defines and classifies rogue parties? Hasn’t the Zanu PF regime been condemned as a rogue state itself?

State Security minister Didymus Mutasa was quoted as saying the registration would separate “serious parties from pretenders”.

His reference to parties that champion “foreign interests” has a familiar ring. It doesn’t augur well for democracy in the country when ministers pick and choose which parties should be registered on the spurious grounds of “national outlook”.

There is no hiding the fact that the purpose of the planned law is to shield Zanu PF from competition for the hearts and minds of a disgruntled populace. The idea is also to intimidate the opposition so that it behaves the way Zanu PF dictates, instead of being robust and critical for fear of deregistration.

Whether a party is serious or not or “national” in outlook should never be the business of government to decide.

It is the democratic right of the owner who founds it and that of the voter to reject it based on its programmes.

Political parties are voluntary associations and government has no business screening them for voters. This is a flagrant violation of the  Sadc electoral protocol.

It is shocking that the Electoral Supervisory Commission made the registration of political parties one of its recommendations ahead of protests against an uneven playing field and a voters’ roll described by opposition parties as a shambles. It claimed shamelessly that lack of registration had led to the emergence of “non-descript” parties “with little content and no standing, let alone sustainability”.

Why then should a government that wants to be taken seriously preoccupy itself with nondescript formations in the midst of a debilitating national crisis?

The reasons lie elsewhere. Just as in the case of newspapers, there is money to be made through registration fees. A more sinister requirement is that parties would have to show their sources of funds and traceable addresses for these sources. Contrary to Mutasa’s claims about stopping saboteurs and fighting foreign interests, the motive is clearly to intimidate voters and to punish businesses that support the so-called “rogue parties”. It is to starve opposition political parties of financial assistance by labelling those who support them as unpatriotic or agents of imperialists.

The Political Parties (Finance) Act outlaws foreign funding for political parties. We all know that this piece of legislation became necessary once it became clear the ruling party was losing friends across the globe while the opposition MDC was receiving a deluge in inverse proportion to Zanu PF’s waning popularity at home. That element of jealousy has not gone away, it is now called “national security”.

It is hard for instance to see how the mere registration of a political party will enable government to discern that party’s “intentions”. What intentions could a political party have except seeking political office? Has replacing the incompetent Zanu PF now become a treasonous undertaking?

Already I can imagine a group of Zanu PF mandarins sitting down to list the criteria for a party to be registered:

*  It must be nationalistic;
* It must defend Zimbabwe’s sovereignty against Western imperialism; 
* It should be Pan-Africanist;
* It must have liberation war credentials; and
* Its leaders must be war veterans and therefore card-carrying members of Zanu PF.

At best this is what is called enlightened self-interest by Zanu PF. At worst it is a determined attempt to curtail our civil liberties and the right to make free choices of who should rule this country.

Democracy demands that parties seek votes from the people by forming and advertising their programmes. Why should this right be taken away from voters through a partisan legislative process of amending the constitution?

Where does government get the locus standi to interpose itself between those seeking political office and the voters, unless such leaders and would-be parties have been convicted of criminal behaviour by a competent court of law?

I hope that should such a Bill be drafted and brought before parliament, our representatives will chew it and spit it into the Indian Ocean.

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