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Candid Comment

Let’s contest elections, not results

By Joram Nyathi

“BEING prepared for the worst is the only way to be prepared for the best,” said Cuban leader Fidel Castro recently. This is hardly what on

e can say of Zimbabwe’s main opposition, the MDC, and it is proving a costly lapse.

The die is cast as it were. Zimbabwe’s first harmonised presidential, parliamentary and local government elections will be held on March 29. Zimbabweans from all sections of society would be expected to freely choose their leaders and representatives in parliament and in the senate. The question is whether the elections will be free and fair. Will all those who are eligible be able to cast their ballot? In just one day?

The experiences of the recent past have not prepared us for any of this, and already we are being primed for a disputed electoral outcome. It’s a bad omen.

While Zanu PF says it is ready for the elections, there is the usual confusion in the MDC. There are even calls for a boycott so as not to “legitimise” a flawed electoral process and the inevitable result.

It is not difficult to understand the MDC’s dilemma. Even without posturing about a new constitution, the party is sorely divided (as is Zanu PF), lacks focus and in desperate need of a decent excuse to pull out. It put all its eggs in one basket at the Sadc-initiated talks with Zanu PF, which talks were magically expected to even the electoral playing field and end politically-motivated violence. Then it sat back.

Now the MDC is preoccupied with condemning every electoral institution over which it has no control, from the voters’ roll to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, but doing precious little to galvanise its supporters to vote. Soon they will be condemning their own brainchild: voting in one day. The number of polling stations and officers needed to do this is mamoth.

What I find sad about calls for a boycott is that apart from exacerbating political tensions in the country, there is no national benefit in the proposition. Those pushing this hard line are said to be in the NGO sector where Zimbabwe’s crisis has become a major source of personal enrichment. Boycotting the elections by the MDC is their survival kit — it means the crisis will persist and there will be a lot of crocodile tears shed among the donor community on behalf of the victims of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship.

Pitted against this crisis syndrome gang are aspiring MPs who know that a boycott would cost them the good life on the gravy train. Most of them are ruing the day they boycotted the senate elections in 2005. A boycott is unimaginable.

But boycotting elections so soon after endorsing an amendment adopting those elections is as disingenuous as boycotting senate elections in 2005 because it (senate) was deemed a costly waste and then endorsing a larger one soon after. It is a woolly-mindedness that verges on the vexatious.

However, it is not as if the MDC doesn’t have valid issues to complain about. From violence to arrests and denial of access to the state media, the electoral system is skewed in Zanu PF’s favour and susceptible to manipulation.

The problem with the MDC is that after the events of March 2007, after condemning every local initiative as an attempt to buy time for Zanu PF, once the talks began under Thabo Mbeki’s mediation, it started behaving as if it had a lot of leverage in the dialogue. Instead of engaging in serious preparations for the elections, it expected Mbeki to be its saviour from Zanu PF when he has neither the magic wand nor the obligation to do so. He is merely a facilitator. More than that, it believed Zanu PF’s duplicity that only it (MDC) mattered in the talks against the advice of its civil society partners under the Save Zimbabwe Campaign.

But since its “treacherous” endorsement of Constitutional Amendment 18 Act the MDC leadership has been under immense pressure to demonstrate that it has not given Mugabe and Zanu PF a new lease of life and conferred legitimacy on more piecemeal amendments to the constitution. This is evident in its latest complaints about Zanu PF backtracking on a “transitional document” before the March 29 elections which Mbeki is supposed to be hiding.

Mugabe never minced his words on a new constitution.You needed to be MDC to believe outsiders or the threat of an MDC election boycott would force him change his mind. Whether he is right or wrong is not an issue.

What is an issue is the MDC’s strange demand for a hurried, election-specific constitution without a popular referendum. I don’t know whether this is a genuine demand or electioneering. This is raised together with the outlandish demand for a “transitional document”.

The only instance when such a mechanism is often used is when you move from one system of government to another such as from apartheid to majority rule in South Africa or from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. The logic in both cases was that a section of the population was wrongly but legally proscribed from participating on an equal basis in the affairs of their country of birth. Now we want a transition from what to what?

Now that the election date has been set, a new constitution is rendered a non-issue for all practical purposes. Even if the date was moved by three months, which is what the current constitution allows Mugabe to do, there would still be no time to hold a referendum for a new constitution. The MDC rejected proposals by Mugabe to push back the elections to 2010 because “he was afraid of losing” the elections this year. Now they face the prospect of losing and the only figleaf they can find is a new constitution and a postponement of the polls.

Our leaders should prepare the electorate more for the elections and less for a disputed result. The simplistic conclusion one draws from this political stand off is that while Zanu PF has been cunning and selfish in dealing with the opposition, the MDC is itself guilty of amateurism and a failure to articulate its cause. It is equally guilty of overrating its bargaining power.

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