Boycotts don’t win political power

Joram Nyathi

THE MDC has presented us with an insoluble political conundrum. What makes you want to shed tears is the inconsequential trigger of the split – the senate – itself a result of our failure to dea

l decisively with Zanu PF and its suffocating regime.


The senate project was conceived as a sputum aimed directly at our face. It is the ultimate act of contempt for a people so utterly vanquished that they don’t deserve to be consulted on anything. It is a personal project by President Mugabe for the gratification of venal cronies only too ready to oblige.


The debate about who was wrong and who was right between the MDC factions on the senate issue is now merely academic. We are getting bogged down in a debate that is not taking us forward. Except that those who advocated a boycott now have a huge task of showing us what they had up their sleeve. We are not worried about those who chose to participate. Their case is settled. If you ask, they will tell you they are now preparing for the next election, whether parliamentary or presidential. For years Zanu clung to its one seat in Chipinge; that is how it has survived to this day.


You may wonder what the point is. It is simply that battles are won or lost by those who fight. You cannot win political power through boycotts and hunger strikes hoping that global sympathy will get you votes. So for those in the MDC who have the big picture of a democratic dispensation in future, the fight is still on and long. The political playing field is transparently uneven. There is need for a new constitution and fresh ground rules before we can restore the integrity of the electoral process. That is common cause throughout the land. But fighting for a new constitution and contesting elections are not mutually exclusive. If anything, participating in elections keeps a party combat-ready, otherwise it is no different from a civic movement without any space to protest.


A party that contests elections avoids the dilemma faced by those who have to choose which election to take part in and which not though the reasons for a boycott of the senate were clear enough. It is a useless Mugabe project to provide himself with a fat mattress for soft-landing when he “finally decides” to start writing his memoirs. This is where the contempt for citizens comes in – he will decide himself when to step down. It has nothing to do with performance or accounting to voters for why he should continue in power. The MDC poses no danger. In fact it is weaker now than it was when it emerged from the ZCTU in 1999.


In other words, even before Mugabe decided on the senate bogey, the problems of a weak leadership in the MDC had become so manifest he didn’t need to consult. This is where those for the boycott miss the point. The MDC won just 41 seats in March despite countrywide campaigns by Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues. Nobody wants to explain the reduction in seats except to use unproven claims of rigging. But all are agreed there wasn’t as much violence in 2005 as there was in 2000 when the MDC snatched a stomach-churning 57 seats from the jaws of a vicious Zanu PF fighting for its life.


Now there are opportunists who want to give Tsvangirai credit by claiming that people listened to his call for a boycott to explain the low voter turnout. The senate’s uselessness was its own worst enemy. That explains why both the MDC pro-senate faction and Zanu PF could not galvanise people to go out and vote.


There is also the myopic view that people didn’t vote because they had more pressing issues to attend to. We are yet to meet a group of people who have more fuel or food or new accommodation because they did not vote. Show us just one family that is better off for boycotting the senate election and we will show you thousands who still don’t know what’s next.


Which brings us to the subterfuge by writers who try to turn the boycott argument on its head. They argue Tsvangirai did not win the call for a boycott but listened to the people who did not want to vote anyway. They might be right about the listening bit, but are woefully off the mark about the reasons why he would need to listen. He was afraid of losing a fourth time.

There was nothing to hand with which to mobilise people after failing to do so in March when there was a chance of slashing Zanu PF’s majority in parliament with new electoral rules.


Point number two, these are the same people he had tried to lead in the “final push” and they ignored him. When he was arrested he expected a revolt, or at least mass protests. There was nothing. These are the same people he tried to mobilise for protests over transport problems Mahatma Ghandi-style in September but they ignored him.


Every astute observer will tell you that was the idea of Tsvangirai walking to work from his home. But there were no takers and openly calling for mass protests would have had repercussions on him personally again. These are the same people who had their homes and businesses destroyed in May under Operation Murambatsvina but couldn’t be moved. So a boycott was the opportunistic route of a man both frustrated and resigned to a population badly inured to inaction. Everyone hopes for a miracle without taking time to pray for it to happen.


But that is not the end of problems for Tsvangirai and his boycott camp. If you ask them what’s next, all they tell you about now is the party congress in February. But congress is a party fiesta, and offers no urgent solutions to the national crisis while its aim and objectives are very clear – to deal once and for all with the pro-senate faction and reassert leadership of the party.

But that is the simpler part, attacking the point of least resistance to avoid tackling head-on Zanu PF and Mugabe. Which is why Mugabe is having a full belly-laugh all the way to Malaysia knowing he is as safe as the proverbial rock of Gibraltar. When family members fight each other and ignore the common enemy what threat can they pose to anyone?


Which leads us to the dilemma of boycotts. What happens to Tsvangirai and his camp should Mugabe call for a presidential election today or in 2008? The current paralysis has been caused by Tsvangirai’s claim that the electoral laws bring “predetermined outcomes”. We believe the electorate at times feels the same, which is why we advocate constitutional reforms to fight voter apathy and restore the integrity of democratic electoral outcomes.

But what happens if the laws are not amended until 2010 when we should have both presidential and parliamentary elections? That is the big question and a boycott cannot be taken to be a serious answer for a party that wants to be seen as a government in waiting. People need to know the position of their party well ahead of an election to find out the issues at stake and make informed decisions.


That is why we hope the MDC factions will soon resolve their unedifying petty squabbles that have bogged them down and look at the bigger picture in the national interest. After all they are both right on the substantive issues – one faction is politically correct while the other is legally right. The party is crying out for leadership renewal and all traces of dictatorial tendencies and undemocratic dispositions should be nipped in the bud for the good of us all.

That is the lesson we should have learnt from our recent history.