Candid Comment: Election Run-off Is A Non-Starter

I AM not voting in the presidential run-off, regardless of when it’s going to be. It’s a conscientious objection.

Though legally mandatory, the proposed run-off is a charade which I cannot persuade my conscience to justify.

If it were within my power, this is one election I would urge Zimbabweans to boycott for its utter uselessness to national wellbeing. It is heartless and downright dishonourable to traumatise Zimbabweans with another election for the hollow pleasure of two politicians.

The MDC leadership, which is quick to accuse everyone who disagrees with it of buying a lifeline for President Mugabe, says it will participate in the run-off “under certain conditions” when one would have expected a more robust response. What could be more blatantly contrived to give Zanu PF and Mugabe a lifeline than another senseless election in an economy already wrecked by years of policy failures and trade sanctions?

I also object because the outcome of that election won’t resolve the current political deadlock even if the MDC brought observers and monitors from Venus. If they are being forced to take part in the election because of a legal technicality — the 50% plus vote — it is because they refused to put the interests of the nation first on March 29.

Even if we agreed that President Mugabe has become unelectable, I believe either party could easily have won the synchronised March elections if their two leaders were more concerned with people’s wellbeing. The basis of the contest was the same — land.

From the point of national empowerment, Zanu PF’s position on land and indigenisation is unassailable. On the other hand, using neoclassical, liberal economic indicators such as inflation, unemployment, food shortages, industrial capacity underutilisation and the corruption which has accompanied the land reform process, the MDC could have turned the tables by exposing how Zanu PF had failed to execute a noble programme.

Instead, the MDC unduly prioritised dealing with multiple farm owners and those involved in the mechanisation programme, further hardening attitudes among beneficiaries. (Who said multiple farm ownership was a crime and was it a Zanu PF invention?)

So what caused a run-off election?

Mugabe rejected leadership renewal in his party. So you have a peculiar situation where people voted for a Zanu PF MP but rejected its leader. Morgan Tsvangirai allowed himself to be fooled by power-brokers in his inner circle who told him he was so popular there was no need to “make every vote count”.

People’s calls for a united front were spurned and now both parties want the same brutalised electorate to make another sacrifice in a contest which could have been settled with finality on March 29.

The debate is not whether Mugabe would have accepted the result if Tsvangirai had won by the legal margin. Nobody says he will accept defeat in a run-off. The point is that the debate would be less complicated: a president who lost an election but won’t relinquish power versus an opposition leader who won with the requisite margin but is being denied power.

For all practical purposes, Tsvangirai won. Yet technically he didn’t and by the same token Mugabe is legally the president until the outcome of the run-off resolves the impasse. Unity by the MDC now is too late.

From their stupefied reaction to the election debacle, Mugabe has made up his mind that they are confused and is not going on anybody’s else terms.

Which is really my point, that an election run-off won’t solve our political, and by extension, the economic crisis.

Political leaders must sit down and talk. Given the position the MDC and its backers have adopted and that of President Mugabe and his advisors, neither will accept the result. The outcome of any run-off will be of no more than historical significance.

The dialogue need not be confined to the Thabo Mbeki mediation effort. Whatever its outcome, it must never have the whiff of having been engineered and imposed by outsiders. It is our primary duty to lay the foundations of the Zimbabwe we want.

Why am I calling for a national boycott of the run-off? So that the voter turnout is so low both men will be ashamed to claim victory.

The run-off has a few unpalatable possibilities. People are persuaded to vote with a few broken limbs here and there.

A few dead bodies are not beyond the “minimum force” necessary to make people see the light. Mugabe wins and the MDC protests. It’s business as usual until Zanu PF resolves its succession issue. The crisis deepens while overfed politicians bicker.

The other scenario: “Safe” urbanites believe rural folk have been “emboldened by the beatings” and so Tsvangirai will win with a crushing margin. Let’s accept the possibility that he wins. Mugabe protests and tells Tsvangirai to go and rule over the Bamangwato tribe. How does the MDC react? Exactly as now — the hallmark of bewildered paralysis which has allowed Zanu PF to recover from a staggering defeat.

Enter the African Union fronted by Sadc. It pushes for dialogue to wring out a win-win situation. The MDC cries foul; Zanu PF set the terms. Another interminable process begins all over again.

Then the international community, led by Britain and the United States with their high-pitched diplomacy. (Their propensity to cry earlier and louder than the aggrieved has not helped the MDC deal effectively with the soiled image of its conception.)

Mugabe tells them to go hang. Anybody who tells you US and British diplomacy still has an unqualified influence in the region, let alone in Zimbabwe, beyond newspaper headlines, is ignorant of the change dynamics which have occurred in North-South relations since 2000.