Whichever way, it’s political hara-kiri

THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is locked in mortal combat over participation in next month’s election for the senate. The centre of conflict is in the top echelons where a battle of wills is being waged

between party leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction and a camp seen as led by secretary-general Welshman Ncube.

This follows Tsvangirai’s rejection of the decision of the MDC national executive council — the party’s supreme decision-making body outside congress — to participate in the November 26 poll. Tsvangirai claimed a deadlock and that he had therefore decided for non-participation.

In fact Tsvangirai’s camp lost the vote by 31 to 33, with two spoilt ballots. A majority of the MDC’s 12 provinces also voted for participation. Among the party’s “top six” Tsvangirai was the only one against although national chairman Isaac Matongo voted with his boss.

Tsvangirai’s group is supported by Harare, Chitungwiza, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces, while Ncube’s faction is backed by Matabeleland, Manicaland and Midlands. Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West have since indicated they want to vote.

What is at stake is the survival of the party. There have been clashes in the past for supremacy among rival camps. But Tsvangirai is clearly in the minority on the senate issue. Instead of taking the loss as a genuine expression of the will of the people, he has opted to take off gloves against the entire party and campaign against his opponents, thus playing into the hands of Zanu PF.

Tsvangirai said it was futile to participate in elections which “breed illegitimate outcomes”. Judging from experience, he said the result of the senatorial election was predictable. He also said electing members to the senate would not help his party but was a waste of scarce resources. It was a “warehouse for geriatrics”, he said.

On that score he is dead right as shown by Zanu PF’s primaries where failed politicians are being recalled from semi-retirement for the Last Supper with their benefactor.

However, Tsvangirai’s rivals have equally cogent arguments. The MDC in January took the decision to participate in all future elections in pursuit of “democratic change”. The decision was taken by the national council, the only body that can rescind it.

Ncube’s group reasons that if the MDC boycotts the senate election, it will be guilty of inconsistency if not frivolousness. It begs the question what next? Is Tsvangirai now ready to go into the streets after he recently told the nation public protests were risky as people would be shot by Mugabe’s army? Will he also boycott the 2008 presidential election, if it comes, since the result is “predetermined”? What is there to lose in the senate poll that the MDC has not already lost in the lower chamber? If the real reason for the boycott is a political management system that produces fraudulent results, what is the MDC doing about it? If they want a new constitution, at least Lovemore Madhuku and his National Constitutional Assembly have been more visible and voluble on that front than the confused MDC.

The MDC cannot hope to win power through election boycotts. Voters are not going to sit and wait for the MDC to decide which election it wants to contest. There is no doubt the party will become irrelevant outside parliament. Only through representation can it make its views known and expose the incumbent’s policy failures thus making a compelling case for a chance to rule.

Those in favour of participation say they fear “yielding ground in areas where Zanu PF has no chance of winning votes”.

The infighting has exposed the MDC’s fundamental flaws and its lack of ideological cohesion. The risks of an acrimonious split are very high, especially given the widely divergent positions of the rival camps. And the cause of that split, the senate poll, is, to all intents and purposes, almost farcical.

It would be a great betrayal of the cause of democracy for the MDC to break up over an institution which every fool knows has no national value whatsoever except to accommodate Mugabe’s comrades who lost in past elections, and then prepare the mat for his own soft landing.

The MDC needs to look where it has come from and where it is supposed to go to appreciate the magnitude of the damage it is causing to itself and the disservice to the nation. It needs to focus on the big picture of how best to confront the regime in a variety of contexts, not tear itself apart over an upper chamber Zanu PF wants only for short-term political expediency.

Mugabe must love the way Tsvangirai is committing political hara-kiri in public. He has vowed in the past that Tsvangirai will never rule this country. Those words are now turning into a sick prophesy.

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