By Amanda Atwood
WITH the 2004 Zanu PF congress behind us, the ruling party will soon be launching its election campaign. Of course, it has been in election mode since the 2003 congress. What more can be con
cluded from such initiatives as their anti-corruption drive, the monetary policy renewal and their most recent stunt — a female vice-president?
In the meantime, newspaper reports indicate that the MDC is considering re-engaging in the upcoming general election after all. This possibility has generated a great deal of controversy among Zimbabweans, particularly those in the pro-democracy movement. Some people may argue that Zimbabwe needs to simply get through these next elections and leave politics behind, so that the country can get on with the more important bread and butter issues which desperately need to be addressed. However, politics is the process which decides who gets how much of what.
To say that politics is irrelevant is to concede to the status quo, and accept a country that is run by the few at the expense of the many. To engage in politics is the only way we can ensure that, eventually, resources, development and services are put into the hands of the many, and managed with the needs of Zimbabwe at heart.
With this in mind, it is interesting to view the 2005 election as a unique opportunity to move Zimbabwe towards people’s politics, and by so doing to try and limit the increasingly repressive rule that Zanu PF seeks to impose.
Some analysts have suggested that, given the superficial electoral reforms the government is agreeing to, and the pressure on Zimbabwe from the international community, the elections could be “fair enough” and should therefore be accepted. But this position suggests a slipping standard when it comes to Zimbabwe, and can easily be interpreted as saying that Zimbabwe is “just another African country”, where things like human rights and democratic elections are not to be expected, much less fought for.
In a perfect world, one could expect the ruling party to implement the Sadc guidelines, in spirit and letter, in advance of the March election. To do so it would work with the MDC and civil society to develop reforms to the election process, repealing such laws as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), the Broadcasting Services Act and the looming NGO Bill; disbanding the youth militia, depoliticising the defence forces, opening up food distribution channels, desisting from messages of hate in their rallies and state media, and opening up the state press and airwaves to all political persuasions.
These reforms are the least that could be expected of a rational, democratic party with an interest in democracy and freely contested elections.
Unfortunately, however, Zanu PF has proven itself time and again to be the party of an intolerant, repressive despot with no interest in the rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans, and no regard for the niceties of international diplomacy.
Other analysts have argued that the MDC must contest the forthcoming elections, no matter how unfree or unfair they might be. The argument is that if the MDC does not contest, it will become marginalised in the political process. But, in parliament as it is currently constructed, the MDC is unable to be an active, effective opposition to the ruling party.
I have no desire to undermine the many important strides the MDC has made through its presence in parliament. They have debated boldly, tirelessly, passionately and at length against the repressive legislation, which has been brought forward by the ruling party. And their record in the Hansard definitely proves them to be the more committed, more dedicated and more articulate party. But the fact remains, despite the MDC’s earnest eloquence, repressive legislation has been railroaded through the House and fast-tracked into law time and again. What the MDC has been able to do, with its more than 50 seats, is to ensure that Zanu PF does not have the two-thirds majority it would require to amend the Constitution. In the upcoming elections, while Zanu PF might give the MDC some few seats to ensure a token “opposition”, they most certainly will stop well short of the critical number 50.
This means that the ruling party will be able to railroad not only its legislation, but its constitutional reforms. And the MDC may protest vigorously, but it will not have sufficient votes to stop this. If anything, the MDC’s presence in parliament will only serve to legitimate the ruling party’s actions. Zanu PF will be able to demonstrate to any would-be critics that Zimbabwe is indeed a multi-party democracy. And the MDC’s marginalised presence in parliament will only legitimate this illegitimate regime. So, to urge the MDC to contest in the 2005 general election is to deny the fact that parliament is not an august House, but is merely providing the veneer of democracy, with none of the substance.
Another argument is that the MDC must contest, or risk irrelevancy. But this shortsighted position ignores the opportunities available to the MDC by not contesting the election. If the MDC is able to maintain its daring and principled stance to not participate in the forthcoming election, it will deprive Zanu PF of the legitimacy it so desperately needs from these elections.
Moreover, by so doing the MDC would create for itself a unique opportunity to be reconstituted as a vibrant, active opposition movement that is not constrained by the diplomatic requirements implied by its participation in flagrantly flawed institutions such as parliament.
Thus, to urge the MDC to contest in a rigged election for a sham parliament because if it does not it might become irrelevant is dangerous and mischievous.
Similarly, there have been suggestions that the MDC should contest because the international community will turn out to witness and observe the elections. And if elections are boycotted or not held, the international community would lack the will or the means to formulate and implement a more comprehensive and forceful strategy to respond to this. But this position is myopic and defeatist. It urges the international community to legitimise what is guaranteed to be a flawed election, and does not challenge them at all to take a bold stand against this rigged election.
It also assumes that the international community will be allowed to freely observe the elections, even though recent statements by the regime suggest that they will not be allowed into the country, much less permitted to observe elections in a comprehensive or independent manner.
And, of course, even if they were allowed into the country, there is no guarantee that the reports of international observers would be heeded. The region and the international community have proven themselves time and again to be either unwilling or unable to hold Mugabe to any standard other than his own.
The Mugabe regime has similarly demonstrated repeatedly that it has no interest in election reform, democratic reform, or any observation of the rule of law, no matter who is making the recommendations or pushing for the reforms.
The 2005 general election do indeed present a crossroads for Zimbabwe.
But to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the elections, we must all expand our vision of what is possible in our environment. With the New Year around the corner, we can each make resolutions which will determine the next phase of our future.
The international community can at least agree that illegitimate elections yield illegitimate governments, and refuse to acknowledge the results of any election that is not held according to the Sadc standards which the government of Zimbabwe signed onto in August this year. Or, the MDC can contest, NGOs can fold quietly in the face of the NGO Bill, individuals can throw their votes away in a rigged election, and the international community can continue to act a toothless bulldog with a bark much louder than its bite.
Perhaps the first scenario doesn’t sound any more realistic than some analysts’ suggestions that the elections might just be “fair enough”, and the token seats won by the MDC will be enough to secure a foothold in the process of democratic reform.
But if the choice is between finding new ways, new creativity, new inspiration and new energy for the democratic struggle, or stagnating quietly and suffocating in the status quo, I certainly know where I stand. Do you?
*Amanda Atwood is a Harare-based activist.