Playing with numbers in parliament

By Trudy Stevenson

IF you really want to impress someone, quote statistics. Statistics can prove anything, manipulated the way you want, and few dare challenge the figures – at least in public.
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Just so the voting pattern in parliament. “All those in favour say “Aye”. Those against say “No”. “I think the Ayes have it. Yes, the Ayes have it. The Bill is therefore adopted.”

On really contentious matters when a division is called, members line up and are carefully counted and recorded as voting Aye or No, and the figures are quoted in both Hansard and the media.

On almost all those occasions in this Fifth Parliament (2000-2005) the majority has been clearly Zanu PF, and so an increasing array of Bills reducing citizens’ rights in clear contravention of the Constitution and the oath of loyalty sworn by all members have sailed through to become law: the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, the Rural Land Occupiers (Prevention from Eviction) Act, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Material Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Amendment) Act and the Bank Use Promotion and Anti Money-Laundering Act.

Not forgetting of course passing the budget every year despite vigorous protests, setting up privileges inquiries into opposition members’ behaviour while failing to do so for members of the ruling party, overturning some motions and passing others …the list goes on.

Yet the number of votes in every case is subject to question, for the simple reason that 39 people sitting in the House faced High Court challenges to their June 2000 general election result, and judgements only started being handed down in January 2001. Of these, seven MDC petitions were successful, but the Zanu PF MPs have appealed to the Supreme Court and remain sitting and voting in parliament until those appeals are heard and judgement handed down.

Eleven were dismissed and the Zanu PF wins confirmed, but of those six have appealed and await hearing. Five have not yet been completed. Sixteen petitioners did not proceed for various reasons: the petitioner or the “winner” died, one disappeared, some came to agreement with the “winner”, some just became exasperated with the inordinate delays.

Of the 40 election petitions, only one was brought by a Zanu PF candidate against the MDC “winner” in Seke, where sadly Ben Tumbare-Mutasa recently died and the challenger, Phineas Chihota, “won unopposed”, so cannot proceed with his court appeal. Apart from one Zimbabwe Union of Democrats petition against a result also contested by MDC which was not proceeded with, the rest – 38 – were all filed by MDC candidates against Zanu PF “winners”.

Do not forget in this number game that the courts themselves have been in considerable disarray since 2000, with judges leaving, being intimidated, arrested and dismissed, and with unheard-of mishaps such as tapes of the court records being stolen from a locked office in the High Court, as happened in the Tsvangirai v Manyonda petition!

Suppose all 38 Zanu PF and one MDC “challenged MPs” voted, and suppose their elections are found to be irregular, so that their votes should in fact not be included in the totals. I do not believe there has been a single Bill or motion passed with a majority of as many as 38. Now add the 38 to the MDC vote, bearing in mind that in fact the MDC could have had as many as 38 extra MPs in parliament at the beginning. The implication is that all of those Bills and motions would not have been adopted.

Let us, however, be fair and admit that it is most unlikely that all the “challenged MPs” would have voted at any time. Suppose that only half of them voted; 19. Even then, the Bills and motions would have failed. I cite for example the vote in June this year on Philip Chiyangwa’s motion on “Actions by the MDC” when the House divided with 53 Ayes (Zanu PF) and 25 Noes (MDC). The result would have been 34 Ayes and 44 Noes, and the motion would not have been adopted.

Even where there was no division but the volume of the Ayes and Noes, clearly the MDC side would in every case have been louder and its members would have challenged any pronouncement that their side had lost.

What does it all mean? It means, unfortunately, that most of what has happened in parliament could be cancelled, because everything has been based on false premises. It means in particular that not one of those iniquitous Bills would have been passed.

Citizens – including members of parliament – would not be harassed and arrested by police because of their misinterpretation of Posa (I am the first to admit that the Act is not quite as draconian as the ZRP’s misinterpretation of “notification” to mean “permission”).

They would be able to assemble, discuss, demonstrate, march and generally enjoy their constitutional right to freedom of assembly, movement and speech without interference. Independent and foreign journalists would be going about their business without hindrance and we would all be able to read the Daily News, the Tribune and possibly several new papers. We would be able to listen to Capital Radio and Radio Dialogue, watch Joy TV and probably have several new choices. Just imagine!

The entire fast track land resettlement programme would have been done properly under rule of law with due notice, compensation, etc. Government, chefs, so-called war vets or whoever would not have been able to “acquire” farm equipment without payment or possibility of recourse to the courts.

Zimbabwe would not be short of food. We would not have scared away both investors and producers, and we would have foreign currency reserves from agricultural exports. Indeed, our economy would be strong and we would have three million extra brains, currently drained into the diaspora, here at home building our country.

The implications go on and on – and the enormity of what has happened in the parliament of Zimbabwe and its repercussions on the people of Zimbabwe begins to dawn upon us.

Now let us go back to the original numbers – 38 + 1. Supposing that parliament had not started sitting until those 38 + 1 challenges had been settled, and it was found that perhaps half – 19 – should not have won and their opposing candidates – MDC – were declared the winners. This would have meant that the MDC had won 57 + 19 – 1 = 75 seats, against 44 to Zanu PF. So the MDC would in fact have won the general election, having a majority in the House of 120 elected seats. However, since Mugabe still had another two years as president, he still retained the power to appoint directly or indirectly 30 members (governors, chiefs and non-constituency MPs), so Zanu PF would have had 74, the MDC would have had 75 and Zanu-Ndonga would have retained its 1 seat… A very close thing indeed!

Suppose instead that all 38 challenges were upheld. MDC would have had 57 + 38 – 1 = 94 seats, Zanu PF 26 elected + 30 appointed = 56. Here the MDC would have been in a clear majority in the House, and even Mugabe’s appointed cabinet would have been defeated at the vote in the House, so that his “government” should properly have resigned at the first instance of this, if not before (ie refuse to be appointed, as happens so often in Italy, etc).

What is the solution? In my view, we should not simply shrug our shoulders and accept the injustice of what has happened to Zimbabwe without a fight. It is not enough to say that there will be a special court for the next election to deal with election petitions within six months – welcome though that change would be. Many thousands, indeed millions of Zimbabweans, have suffered injustice because of the serious anomalies arising out of this numbers game in parliament – and the deliberate delays and manipulation of the just-ice system by the executive.

I submit that, without interference, our courts could have dealt with those election petitions within a year at most, and our country might be a very different place from the very sorry state it is in today.

Trudy Stevenson is MDC member of parliament for Harare North.

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