ZIMBABWE’S main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, yesterday said it would participate in the March 31 legislative poll “with a heavy heart̶
1; and “under protest” after carrying out extensive consultations.
The MDC had to choose between boycotting the election — and risk becoming irrelevant — or participating in a contest that few observers believe will be free or fair.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told a press conference at Harvest House, the party’s head office in central Harare, that the decision was reached after a marathon national executive meeting held on Wednesday.
“It is with a heavy heart that the national council has resolved the MDC will participate in the forthcoming elections,” Nyathi said. “We participate under protest. We participate without prejudice. We participate to keep the flame of hope alive.”
Prior to the meeting, the management committee and the national executive had met to audit feedback from the party’s 12 provinces. The view from 11 provinces was to lift the boycott. Only Harare was opposed to the decision, charging that a fair and free election was impossible under present conditions.
Senior members insisted the government had not done enough to meet the party’s 15 demands for a free and fair vote issued last year or to comply with the August 18 Grande Baie Sadc protocol signed by President Mugabe in Mauritius.
“They raised legitimate concerns about the hostile political environment,” a top party official who attended the Wednesday meeting told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday. “But we had to compromise to try and deal with that.”
Nyathi told the press conference that the decision was based primarily on the demands of members.
“The council noted various resolutions from our 12 provinces, from hundreds of party structures, from our supporters and friends and from our pro-democracy partners mandating the MDC to lift the 26 August suspension, in spite of the hostile political environment in the country today,” Nyathi said.
The Independent was told that the party’s executive committee on Wednesday endorsed 110 candidates for the election and the national executive was yet to confirm the candidacy of 10 other contestants. It is understood that among those whose candidacy has yet to be confirmed is political turncoat Shakespeare Maya, who joined the MDC from the obscure National Alliance for Good Governance late last year. Maya is intending to represent the party in Mhondoro.
Nyathi declined to comment on Maya’s candidacy saying he was not at liberty to discuss individual cases but said everyone who met the party’s criteria would be allowed to contest.
Top party sources told the Independent that the opposition’s campaign strategy was to hold rallies in the last three weeks before the poll. He said the reason was that the party feared there would be a fierce backlash from ruling party thugs and this would expose the opposition party’s supporters to violence and intimidation if rallies were held any earlier.
“Three weeks are enough for us to campaign and reach out to the electorate,” a source said.
The decision came amid renewed international interest in Zimbabwe’s long-running political and economic crisis.
Foreign governments have joined the MDC in pressing Zimbabwe to hold a democratic vote under the Sadc guidelines agreed last year.