Tsvangirai risks political irrelevancy

Constantine Chimakure



THE MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai risks becoming irrelevant by boycotting this year’s harmonised polls if government refuses to introd

uce a transitional constitution and move the election date from March to June, political analysts warned this week.


The analysts also warned that the MDC would face another split as some of its members would break ranks to seek their political fortunes elsewhere.


Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said the MDC should at all times contest elections despite the prevailing political environment as the costs of boycotting were heavier than the benefits of running in the polls.


“Boycotting elections is a political statement,” Masunungure said. “Given the situation in our country, I am of the view that boycotting the polls will not work. You make a threat to boycott elections hoping that your opponents will buy into your demands, but that cannot happen with Zanu PF.”


Masunungure said Zanu PF would go ahead with the polls in March with or without the participation of Tsvangirai’s faction.


“There won’t be a shortage of contenders against Zanu PF. I see the Arthur Mutambara camp participating and I also see some members of Tsvangirai’s faction breaking ranks and proceed to participate,” the political scientist said. “The boycott is likely to lead to further fragmentation of the MDC. It has heavy costs and I hope the MDC will weigh the costs of boycotting against the benefits.”


He said the MDC would be irrelevant if it is not represented in parliament.


Another commentator, Michael Mhike, said boycotting polls would not be of benefit to the Tsvangirai camp.


“Political parties are formed to contest elections. The MDC should desist from threatening to boycott polls and put in motion its campaign,” Mhike said.


“We have seen some opposition parties in Africa boycotting polls and becoming irrelevant. In Senegal last year, a number of major opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary election, but where are they today?”


In June last year, 12 major opposition parties in Senegal boycotted the country’s parliamentary polls citing the failure by President Abdoulaye Wade to change the electoral process, revise the voters’ roll and create an independent structure to replace the electoral commission whose officials were appointed by the head of state.


They also argued that the 150 contested constituencies were delimitated to the advantage of Wade’s Democratic Party and demanded that they be redrawn.


But 15 other opposition parties contested the polls in which Wade’s party won 131 seats including all 90 determined by majority voting.


The parties that boycotted the elections included the former ruling Socialist Party and the Rewmi party of Idrissa Seck, who was placed second in the presidential election in February of the same year.


The Senegal opposition parties’ demands were more or less similar to those being made by the MDC.


Tsvangirai’s faction last week said it would not participate in the historic elections if Zanu PF refuses to capitulate to its demands, saying taking part in the polls would be tantamount to the party becoming a danger to itself while giving the nation a false hope.


The MDC said Zanu PF was backtracking on “agreements” reached in Sadc-initiated talks aimed at ending the country’s political and economic crisis that has resulted in over 80% of Zimbabweans wallowing in poverty.


“In spite of the mess we are forced to live with today, Zanu PF has begun to backtrack on some of these agreed points and is going it alone,” Tsvangirai observed.


“The main sticking points are a transitional constitution and an election date. We settled on the transitional constitution following assurances that the agreement would be implemented before the next election.”


Tsvangirai charged that Zanu PF was now against the spirit and content of that agreement and was insisting that the constitution could only be implemented after the polls.


Constitutional lawyer and chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly Lovemore Madhuku said the MDC should not mislead the nation that they were now for a “new” constitution.


He questioned why the MDC (both factions) supported and endorsed Constitutional Amendment No 18 last September if they had been pushing for a new constitution.


“What transitional constitution are they talking about? They (MDC) are insisting on the introduction of a document they signed in Pretoria in a hotel and that is not known by the people of Zimbabwe,” Madhuku said. “That is not a constitution. There is need for a real people-driven constitution crafted through a constitutional process leading to a referendum.”


Madhuku added that the MDC was now pushing for a constitution only after civil society had questioned its support for constitutional amendments and cosmetic amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, the Electoral Act and the Public Order and Security Act.


“Their document will not bring free and fair elections because it is not a people-driven constitution,” Madhuku said. “They (MDC) are still operating under an illusion that if they and the government adopt their document, it will become a constitution that will be accepted by Zimbabweans.”


Opposition Zanu (Ndonga) said it was up to President Robert Mugabe’s government, not the MDC, to set the date for the harmonised elections.


Its secretary for information and publicity, Reketayi Semwayo, told the Herald on Saturday that: “I have said to my colleagues that the government of the day is the one which sets the election date, let’s push our demands but the election date is set by the government, otherwise we cause confusion.”


The MDC argued that the pace at which the transitional constitution was to be implemented determines the election date.


The party said the constitution already agreed to was essential in setting up requisite infrastructure for a sound electoral management system, codes for good governance and a human rights regimen between now and the election date.


These, the MDC argued, were key factors necessary to spur confidence, redirect the people towards a national solution, regenerate hope and to “rally the nation to unite in handling our sensitive national crisis”.

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