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Editor’s Memo

Where’s Plan B?

PITY the poor urban voter. President Robert Mugabe was this week full of praise for his loyal rural electorate. But he didn’t have kind words for the “habitually

fickle” urban voters who do not share his revolutionary zeal amid poverty and general deprivation.

Worse still for the urban voter who punctured the Zanu PF myth that it had made significant inroads into towns and cities, there was no heartfelt thank you from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. A few feeble adverts appeared almost a week later, all complaining about how “we woz robbed”, not praising the electorate who saved the party from a Zanu PF avalanche, and hoped for change at last.

While noting that rural support for Zanu PF was most “consistent, reliable and a formidable defence for our revolution”, Mugabe conceded his party’s “appeal” in urban areas was “limited and mixed” in a constituency that is more discerning and has clear needs such as accommodation, employment, transport, housing, health and affordable education.

He didn’t say how his party managed to appeal to voters in rural areas short of using discredited coercive methods such as violence or threats of it, denial of food and use of traditional leaders to marshal terrified villagers into polling stations. Most villagers were told it was very easy to discover who they voted for. In rural areas it’s a believable lie. Not once did Mugabe say “Your vote is your secret”.

Still those who voted got a presidential thank you.

What we couldn’t understand was the MDC leadership’s reaction to the election outcome. It is not about rigging or not. When they were asked by the Sadc observer mission to produce evidence of rigging, they could not. When foreign media organisations wanted to interview party leader Morgan Tsvangirai at his home, we understand he slammed the gate in their face. He didn’t want to take advantage of the media publicity to make his case. Supporters and voters felt let down in a big way. There was clearly no leadership to articulate their frustrations and concerns about the result of the vote. Instead MDC leaders chose to hold a press conference in Johannesburg first.

The MDC leadership appeared thoroughly devastated by the result as if it was unexpected. It was as if they had expected to win, which would be naïve in the extreme.

The issue is not anymore about whether the party should have participated in the election or not. That decision was taken and the MDC lost so to speak. They have given legitimacy to a fraudulent process and made South African president Thabo Mbeki’s job of defending his “quiet diplomacy” that much easier. The issue is about leadership paralysis in the MDC, lack of Plan B when it was most urgently needed. Forty-one seats is not a small number and the MDC should have shown gratitude to the urban electorate while protesting the alleged “theft”.

It is one thing for the party to allege irregularities which it may fail to prove but quite another to examine its own shortcomings objectively. We all know that they were given only a few appearances on TV and on national radio to campaign. We know that Posa and Aippa were always going to militate against their campaign strategies. Then there was the massive onslaught by the very media that denied them the right of reply. That appears to be ongoing.

In fact, you would think the MDC had nearly won the election given the abuse the state media is heaping on them.

But the opposition party’s effectiveness on the ground is now compromised given its loss of heart. In addition to electoral manipulation, Zanu PF has a built-in majority when the 30 presidential appointees are weighed in the balance.

Another big drawback reinforced by the current leadership paralysis is the MDC’s inability to take swift decisions. We warned towards the end of last year that the party was taking too long to make up its mind about whether or not to take part in the election. We said voters would need time as well to make up their mind once the MDC decided to participate.

Even after President Mugabe announced the March 31 date, the party remained encumbered by a ponderous decision-making process until the very last minute.

When the decision was finally made, the party took its “heavy heart” to the voters when it was too late in the day, as if it had limitless resources and capacity to reach all corners of the country. Yet its advertising reach was less than adequate.

Its tug-of-war with the National Constitutional Assembly about whether to vote or not could only have made matters worse. Even those who were registered were caught in a web of conflicting signals about what they were supposed to do.

Instead of galvanising potential supporters with the beauty of its programmes, the MDC adopted the same blame strategies that Zanu PF has perfected over the years.

Mugabe is wrong to blame all the country’s problems on a treacherous opposition and imperialist machinations, but he may well be right in his assessment that his party’s poor performance in the cities was due “more to our weakness than to opposition strength”.

Never mind what the Sadc protocols say, the political playing field will never be even when you have a flawed constitution and government has overwhelming influence on what constitutes voter education and by whom. It is a cliché that no government will legislate itself out of power. Politics would have lost its fatal allure.

Yet the MDC went into the electoral race as if victory was guaranteed. People may not love Zanu PF, but they hate an alternative that is indecisive and cannot be trusted to provide leadership when this is sorely required.

What party supporters now want to know is what the MDC plans to do next. Zimbabweans have been on tenterhooks for far too long. The country cannot endure another five years of enervating political stalemate between the MDC and a visionless Zanu PF.

The MDC will also need to sort out the evident division between its hawkish “no to voting, no to talks, no to compromise” camp and those who feel there are no absolute victors in political games. Otherwise the party risks political oblivion.

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