MDC makes leap of faith

AFTER five months of dithering and in some instances outright confusion, the MDC, as we report today, will take part in the March 31 parliamentary election.

The decision by the party yesterday is of immense sign

ificance even though it was largely expected that a “boycott” would not hold.

The MDC has kept the electorate guessing since August when it suspended participation in all polls, saying government had to put in place measures that ensured the opening up of political space for the opposition in line with the Mauritius protocol.

Cynics would ask the MDC what has changed since August? Have their demands been met?
The simple answer is there has been little movement in the political logjam. The MDC’s demands — much the same as those of Sadc — have remained largely unmet despite shrill cries of compliance from the government media.

This week civic groups put out a damning report documenting Zanu PF’s record of non-compliance with the Grande Baie protocol. The well-documented instruments of coercion employed by the state to good effect against opponents have remained in place. This includes security laws and curbs on civil society and the media. While the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been appointed, ostensibly to run the election, the new commissioners have been subordinated to existing institutions such as the Registrar-General’s office and the Electoral Supervisory Commission, whose record in the conduct of elections is tainted by allegations of abetting fraud.

So if the MDC had stuck to its guns, participation in the election would have been out of the question. However, there is another side to this coin. While political reforms and repeal or amendment of retrogressive laws may not happen before the poll, the MDC’s decision to suspend participation had the positive effect of focusing international attention on Zimbabwe’s conduct of elections.

Zimbabwe, whose foreign policy is firmly hinged on ringfencing Mugabe against mounting international condemnation, has been keen to advertise the country’s newfound status as “compliant” with best practice.

But the self-congratulatory mantras are not good enough. There were no international observers to monitor voter registration and the drafting of the voters’ roll. We expect Sadc monitors and others from “friendly” countries to be parachuted in on the eve of the poll only to declare that there was nothing amiss in the conduct of the election.
But it won’t wash this time.

The world is watching and Thabo Mbeki will be the first to appreciate that Sadc’s credibility is on the line.

The international pressure on Mugabe has without doubt played a part in swaying the MDC to get into the race, albeit with very little time to campaign and sell itself to the electorate as the next government. This could prove to be the undoing of the party during the rough-and-tumble contest which starts at the weekend when Zanu PF launches its campaign.

Zanu PF mandarins taking the podium to woo the electorate will portray the MDC as an indecisive party which could not make up its mind on whether to participate or not.

Although Mugabe has preached the gospel of a violence-free poll with the passion of a saint, his party has a record of vicious coercion. It would be naïve for the MDC to believe that the youth militia will be restrained in their camps and that hoodlums brought up on a diet of hate and aggression will lift the ban imposed on the opposition in places like Mashonaland Central. Nor should it expect unfettered and balanced coverage by the state media which has been thoroughly corrupted by ministerial manipulation. Participation is a leap of faith.

The odds are in Zanu PF’s favour. It is the party in office and is therefore in charge of organising and refereeing the race.

State resources are already being mobilised to put the Zanu PF programme in motion. The presidential helicopter will be in the sky almost on a daily basis starting next week as Mugabe reaches out to the rural electorate — at public expense. Religious charlatans and pseudo-Christian groups have been harnessed to campaign for Zanu PF from the pulpit while traditional leaders have been suborned with motor vehicles and electricity. Then there is the willing state media to carry saturation advertising of Zanu PF’s “successes”.

We believe by participating in the election, the MDC has a counter plan to this all-encompassing strategy.

We eagerly wait to hear what it is!

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