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Editor’s Memo

A risky adventure

By Dumisani Muleya

THE main opposition MDC’s decision last week to support Zanu PF’s constitutional amendment proposal designed to ensure President Robert Mugabe’s political survival h

as been greeted with suspicion in diplomatic circles and outrage within civil society.

MDC critics say the party has either started a slow process of committing political suicide or has succumbed to a negotiated surrender.

The National Constitutional Assembly has described the MDC resolution as an “act of treachery”. Others are using abrasive terms like sell-outs to describe the MDC leadership.

In self-defence, MDC leaders are scrambling to explain their decision which has not found any purchase within its constituencies, except in Zanu PF and Sadc circles. Zanu PF MPs have been celebrating the move. Mugabe alluded to it in his United Nations General Assembly address on Wednesday, expressing gratitude to South African President Thabo Mbeki for facilitating the deal. This has raised more misgivings about the whole process. Questions abound on whether or not Mugabe has set a trap for the MDC or the MDC has ensnared Mugabe?

MDC leaders have used different phrases in their bid to justify their decision. Morgan Tsvangirai said it was a “necessary political risk”, Arthur Mutambara said it was a “political gamble”, Thokozani Khupe said it was a “confidence building measure”, Welshman Ncube said the decision was meant “for us to find each other”, while Gibson Sibanda said “we are in the process of making history”.

Last week’s decision was particularly strange after the MDC rejected the 2000 draft constitution, now the basis of ongoing constitutional reform talks.

Mugabe seems willing to negotiate even though he is still strong, largely because of irritating resistance by the MDC and civil society, but he may well be doing so to bargain the opposition into surrender.

Negotiations are tempting, but grave dangers always lurk in them. It may be that Mugabe feels genuinely threatened by the MDC and wants talks to salvage residual control. But the MDC cannot be seen to be helping him to achieve his goal. The MDC must be wary of traps that may deliberately be built into a negotiation process.

While trying to justify themselves, MDC leaders’ remarks also betray the distrust and anxiety shown by their critics. None of them is confident about their “step in the dark”, as Ncube put it in parliament, but they have to put on a brave face before their party to appear as if they are providing leadership in a difficult situation. Mugabe is also doing the same in a way as he buckles under mounting pressure to reform or quit now. That is the art of politics, especially the chameleon politics of deception, providing different faces to different audiences to win them over or at least survive.

It is very easy to understand how Zanu PF benefits from the Constitutional Amendment (Number 18) Bill, but difficult to appreciate how the MDC gains.

Mugabe has got what he wanted: harmonised polls in one day to ensure his re-election; vast expansion of parliament to increase rural constituencies; appointment of 10 provincial governors to senate and five extra senators; delineating of constituencies by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which he appoints (the current ZEC chairman is retired Brigadier General George Chiweshe, the very same person the MDC accused of gerrymandering before the 2005 elections when he was the chair of the Delimitation Commission) and most importantly legitimacy. The MDC has legitimised Mugabe’s self-preservation project.

By contrast, the MDC is happy that Mugabe will no longer appoint MPs to the Lower House. Currently Mugabe appoints 10 provincial governors and 12 non-constituency MPs to the Lower House. There are also eight chiefs. This means Zanu PF effectively has 30 unelected legislators.

However, nothing has really changed because Zanu PF will still have 10 governors, five appointed senators and 18 chiefs in the senate, which is part of parliament.

What is the electoral utility of these piecemeal amendments to the MDC? How will the amendment help the MDC to deal with gerrymandering in all its different forms — stacking, packing and cracking? The same people in the mould of Elbridge Gerry are still running the elections. Nothing has changed.

The MDC has only gained in symbolic terms, not real concessions. The talks may eventually spin out of Zanu PF’s control but Mugabe knows this and he must be hedging his bets. The MDC is hoping that by showing good faith in talks and supporting the Zanu PF plan, the ruling party will reciprocate by making an array of substantial concessions on a new constitution and repressive legislation. But there is no guarantee at all. What is the MDC’s contingency plan? Withdrawal from talks, election boycott or what?

This is a risky adventure. It’s like navigating angry seas in a corroded and creaky vessel.

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