By Welshman Ncube
MAKING tough choices is part and parcel of politics. The decision by the MDC national council, at its extraordinary meeting on February 3, to lift the party’s sus
pension of election participation and enter the fray under protest, was the toughest decision the party leadership has had to make since the MDC’s inception five years ago.
The MDC’s national executive announced on August 25 2004 that the party would suspend participation in the elections pending the Zimbabwe government’s full compliance with the Sadc protocol on Guidelines and Principles Governing Democratic Elections.
At the time, the MDC retained a degree of optimism that President Mugabe would act in the interests of Zimbabwe and the Sadc region and honour the undertakings he had given to other regional leaders to bring Zimbabwe’s electoral framework and political environment in line with what is expected under the new Sadc standards. Regrettably, our optimism proved unfounded. The government remains uninterested in extending to Zimbabweans the rights and freedoms enjoyed by our bothers and sisters across the Sadc region. The reforms that have been introduced are cosmetic and self-serving and fail to properly address the democratic deficits that preclude a free and fair election from taking place.
The intransigence of the Zimbabwe government on the issue of comprehensive electoral and democratic reform made boycotting the elections a compelling option for the MDC leadership.
Decisions in the MDC however are not made by individuals at the top operating in isolation; they are made in consultation with the party’s structures. Decision-making is a collective exercise. The party leadership is guided by what the people on the ground want and acts in accordance with their wishes.
Since the announcement last August to suspend participation in elections, the MDC leadership has travelled to every corner of Zimbabwe engaging our structures and civil society organisations on the issue of election participation and canvassing views. We have held district assembly meetings in all of Zimbabwe’s 120 districts and held provincial assembly meetings in all 12 provinces. Each district and each province was asked to submit resolutions to the national council confirming their respective positions. The resolutions that were submitted were overwhelmingly in favour of participation.
All the various constituencies that make up the MDC expressed similar reasons for wanting to participate in the elections. The businessmen we spoke to in Masvingo, the unemployed youth we spoke to in Chipinge, the factory workers we spoke to in Harare and the ex-farm workers we spoke to in rural parts of Manicaland all expressed their desire to exercise their inalienable right to vote, regardless of the negative democratic conditions on the ground.
Amongst our working class support base the determination to see the implementation of Restart, the MDC’s economic policy agenda for job creation and sustainable economic recovery, appeared to strengthen their resolve to participate in the elections.
Restart rejects the neo-liberal approach to economic development and focuses on the need to create a more socially cohesive society in which there is equal opportunity for all and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth.
The manner in which the decision to participate in the elections was made is indicative of the subordination of the MDC leadership to the internal democratic processes of the party when it comes to decision-making.
It also reflects the unity of purpose which binds the MDC and which has enabled it to overcome everything which has been thrown at it by Zanu PF over the past five years. Without this unity of purpose the MDC would have disappeared from the political map and become another historical footnote.
Contrary to the accusations of our critics, both inside and outside the country, this unity of purpose is not based solely on the objective of replacing the current government. It is a plural phenomenon, rooted in the MDC’s civic society origins. The MDC evolved out of civil society, in particular the labour movement, and was formed in direct response to the failure of the government to address pressing socio-economic grievances.
The political and socio-economic context in which the MDC was born means the party is very much a “broad church” consisting of a wide range of constituencies ranging from labour, youth and women to business. We are the leaders of the social liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.
There is a perception that the MDC’s diversity is its Achilles heel, paralysing efforts to formulate a common programme. Nothing could be further from the truth. The various constituencies that make up the MDC are united in their collective desire to not only usher in a new beginning but also to build a new Zimbabwe based on the social democratic values of solidarity, social justice, freedom, democracy, equity and equality. It is this shared vision of the future, and the ideological principles on which it will be based that binds the MDC together.
The forthcoming elections offer a glimmer of hope for change. We will, however, remain vigilant of the ruling party’s capacity for electoral malpractice. If conditions on the ground deteriorate, extinguishing all glimmer of hope, we have reserved the right to take corrective measures.
*Professor Welshman Ncube is MDC secretary-general.