Soul-searching vital after senate poll

THE senatorial election has passed without casting a silver lining on Zimbabwe’s dark cloud. If anything, the situation is grimier with prospects of even greater costs of maintaining the bicameral parliamentary system s

olely for President Mugabe’s pleasure.

The costs started with Mugabe’s extravagant campaigns across the country, which were stolidly ignored. But that did not stop government purchasing air tickets for those invited to the great beanfeast in Harare — whether Zanu PF or MDC.

Parliamentary Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa has been trying to convince a sceptical nation that the senate is good for us, that it will exercise useful oversight on legislative matters. This, we all know, is hogwash. The calibre of those selected or elected to this upper house says it all.

We however reject the simplistic dichotomy that the low voter turnout — estimated at 19,4% — on Saturday should be seen as a slap in the face for President Mugabe and the pro-senate camp in the MDC on the one hand, and an endorsement of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s call for a boycott on the other. It was neither. It would be opportunistic for Tsvangirai to claim to have his finger on the pulse of national sentiment.

Staying away from the polls and a boycott were a happy coincidence, and that has been the most unfortunate trend of Zimbabwe’s protest politics. Voter apathy, for whatever reason, poses the greatest threat to parliamentary democracy because those put in power have no stake in the national interest or the democracy project.

There were more reasons for a stayaway than for voting for Mugabe: there was no cash, no fuel, no food and simply no sign of the economic turnaround that we were promised when RBZ governor Gideon Gono arrived in 2003. Indeed, even the promises made in March have evaporated. To cap it all, apart from its own cost, nobody believes the senate will add value to legislative debate. The last bit explains why the pro-senate MDC faction was unable to galvanise more than a handful of voters to turn out, not so much Tsvangirai’s call for a boycott.

There is mass disillusionment with the whole party. If it couldn’t influence government policies with 57 MPs, what hope does it have with much less?

Herein comes the MDC’s opportunism — what could be easier than telling such disaffected people to stay at home and blame Mugabe for all our problems? That has become the nation’s biggest pastime and its self-made tragedy — finger-pointing and doing nothing.

A self-fulfilling defeatist philosophy is being celebrated as a victory for the anti-senate camp and democracy! It’s a classic case where mental “attitude is everything”. 

Yet in February 2000 men and women with spunk beat Mugabe and the newly-born MDC nearly did it in June. Was it all fortuitous and the leaders are now in rigor mortis?

Instead of providing solutions to the national crisis, the MDC leadership is following the lead of a people in distress for the immediate needs of survival. The bigger picture has been lost. And those in the leadership who should be holding the compass call this a “vindication” of a call to inaction.

Come congress and the same herd mentality will determine who stays and who goes — not who has new strategies to defeat the nation’s common enemy.

It is however edifying that Tsvangirai is beginning to think beyond a boycott. Last week he said it was time to engage the dictatorship in “democratic resistance” for a new constitution. We hope this is an approach the whole party will seriously embrace now that Zanu PF’s diversionary senate project is settled.

No new, people-driven constitution will come out of election boycotts, nor will a free political environment come from the Mauritius electoral protocols. We cannot imagine a time when Zanu PF will relinquish power on moral grounds, even where 95% of the electorate boycott the poll.

It was a different story in Kenya where the rejection of a proposed constitution forced President Mwai Kibaki to fire his entire cabinet. In Zimbabwe it is business as usual.

Those who expected Mugabe to bat an eyelid with embarrassment at the low voter turnout on Saturday must have been quickly disabused when he went on to appoint those who lost to his cabinet. How does boycotting elections deal with such presidential arrogance and advance the cause of democracy?

What the people of Zimbabwe are looking for in the opposition is a spark of leadership in the deep national crisis and not petty vendettas to mask lack of strategy. So far that spark is not showing anywhere.

This is a time for serious soul-searching about the future of this country.

We see nothing to celebrate from the senatorial poll outcome, least of all from those who claim to be leading the struggle for democracy and to have the will of the people in their hearts. That’s cynicism not worthy of any leader.

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