MDC: to vote or not to vote?

By Charles Frizell

WITH elections looming sometime in March, I think it is time to take a dispassionate and analytical look at the current situation in Zimbabwe, and the political forces and factors involved

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At present we have the Movemement for Democratic Change (MDC) preparing themselves for an election, but so far not committing themselves to participate. Their point is that the electoral process is skewed and by no means free and fair, despite President Robert Mugabe having committed himself to the Sadc electoral norms in Mauritius last year.


To date cosmetic changes have been made, but nothing of significance has changed. The press is still rigidly controlled and repressive laws have been strengthened and not repealed. Above all, Zanu PF controls food supply through its monopoly on the GMB and having refused non-tied food aid offered by the international community last year.


What is likely to happen if the MDC decides to participate?


First, just the decision will immediately confer a large amount of legitimacy on the present regime. Next, what chance does the MDC actually have of winning a clear majority? We should remember that the last election was a close call, but one of the things that made a mockery of the whole process was Mugabe’s right to appoint a further 30 non-elected Members of Parliament. This incidentally was not in the Lancaster House constitution but was one of the nefarious changes instigated by Eddison Zvobgo. For the process to be fair, these appointed seats must either be done away with, or selected by the parties on a proportional basis. In order to win under the present system, the MDC not only needs a majority, they need a landslide.


However, judging by the last election, in a free and fair process they probably would get this landslide. Five years later, the population is even more despondent and the economy in free-fall. Does anyone believe that a free and fair election is possible under the present regime? In the interest of window dressing and for its propaganda value, the regime would no doubt “allow” the MDC to win a fair number of seats, but of course less than 50% of the elected seats. This would look good, but would leave the MDC totally helpless in parliament, as they are now.


Let us now turn to the recent shenanigans within Zanu PF. When the dust has settled we find that Mugabe has installed Vice-president Joyce Mujuru to whom we hear he owes a large debt for assisting him way back. The Young Turks and others who oppose his autocratic rule have been sidelined and he finds himself sitting on top of the dung heap — which was probably the intention all along.


The goings-on have strengthened his grip on the party, not weakened it.

What chance is there of meaningful intervention by South Africa? And why does President Thabo Mbeki persist with his quiet diplomacy? The truth of the matter is that Mugabe serves as a lightning rod for the extremist elements in South Africa and the ANC. Mbeki needs him as a surrogate who does what emotionally many South Africans would like to do, but common sense and the rule of law forbids them from doing.


So South Africa will not intervene until and unless it is in the interest of Mbeki and the ANC to do so. The recent involvement of Cosatu is however a possible indication of change sometime in the future. One must also assume that a fair amount of pressure is being exerted on Mbeki behind the scenes.


Let us now examine the reasons why Mugabe does not want free elections. This goes far beyond the reluctance of any premier or despot to relinquish power. What he fears is a fate similar to Augusto Pinochet of Chile — being hounded and held accountable in his old age. I believe that the only realistic solution is for a negotiated exit plan and amnesty for Mugabe. One of the benefits of his dominance of Zanu PF is that if an exit deal can be done with him, it is unlikely to have to involve many others.


Who could broker such a deal? Realistically, this would probably have to be Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, because of Mbeki’s silent commitment to Mugabe.


Nigeria may even allow him (Mugabe) exile in that country. I believe that South Africa would need to be involved, but probably behind the scenes for the reasons I mentioned earlier. To my mind, this is the only possible solution that does not involve civil war and a typical African meltdown into a totally failed state. Possibly, some of the cooler heads in Zanu PF know this.


In summary then, should the MDC participate in the coming elections under

the present dispensation? My view would be that they should not.


I do not believe that the election process will even be remotely free and fair, or that Mugabe would allow a free election without personal guarantees for himself and maybe some of those closest to him.


To participate would be to confer legitimacy on the regime that they so desperately desire, whereas not to participate will make the election the sham we all know it to be.


*Charles Frizell is a Zimbabwean based in the UK.

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