Will Zimbabwe vote in 2010 or later?

WHEREVER a transitional government has been formed, especially on the Africa continent, a key question that has regularly arisen has been its durability; that is, how long they intend to last, how long they can exist in reality and when the next election to acquire a democratic government will take place.

In Zimbabwe’s case, this question at first sight appears to be a settled matter because it is assumed the inclusive government should exist for two years before the holding of free and fair elections under a new people-driven constitution.

This may still be possible but it must be considered with an increasing amount of caution. This is because transitional governments tend to take on characteristics that are informed by political party pragmatism that relates primarily to the retention of workable power as well as seeking an avoidance of what in our instance may be another tedious, dangerous and undemocratic election.

Another problem could be the stronger political parties in the agreement may not be confident of winning an election outright and could therefore decide collectively to plod on until such a time they feel they are ready to seek fresh mandates.

Because of these considerations, there is a need for the people of Zimbabwe to insist on their right to vote by year end 2010 through a free and fair democratic process.

The reasons for this are not necessarily based on the considerations of political parties, but are mainly because political transition, in essence should not merely or continually be a process of configuring and reconfiguring power between rival political parties. 

Instead, it should be about democratic political and social transformation, both in the immediate as well as in the long-term.  And because the measurement of a transitional government plus its political players can only be democratically measured through an election, Zimbabwe needs a free and fair election by the end of the year 2010.

In this vein, it is necessary to outline some of the challenges that may emerge to deny the people of Zimbabwe the right to exercise their democratic right to vote for a government of their choice.

The end of 2010 as the period when elections should be held is not an off the cuff time-frame.  It is derived from the Global Political Agreement’s inference of the same and the proclamations that there should be an election after a people-driven constitutional reform process.

The time frame for this is 18 months.

But it is obviously easy for a government leader to argue that it is impossible to hold elections in a country where there is so much social and economic suffering.

Another might even argue that there is need to prioritise resolution of issues within the socio-economic context that is Zimbabwe. 

In such an argument, elections might not top the agenda, and in their place, narratives will emerge about the importance of economic and social welfare delivery.

Furthermore, there is the apparent risk of the political parties in this government getting comfortable with each other as time progresses. 

What is self-evident almost two months into the formation of this government is the increase in assumptions of collective responsibility. 

The visibility of government ministers from Zanu PF and either of the two MDCs sitting together, appearing on television, and literally functioning as if they were hewn from the same stone, is indicative of a shift in how they have come to understand their roles as members of one cabinet. 

Agreed there may be contestation behind the scenes as to who is responsible for what in various ministries, but there is the general understanding that there will be negotiations about this, with the occasional assistance of the Sadc-appointed mediator, Thabo Mbeki.  

The comfort in government could then influence the principals of any of the three parties to decide that the government is working and that an election will upset the apple cart.  Even where they decide the government is not working, it would still be reason enough to not want to hold an election as per a new constitution. 

The evidence of this may however be limited, thus far, but the little that there is, is very telling.

Another key consideration on the issue of elections and the transitional government is the extent to which the actual issue is discussed publicly both by civil society and the political parties. 

Thus far, there have been very few instances where such talk has been heard, and one particular incident involved President Mugabe last month saying there should be a new constitution and elections. 

He mentioned the Kariba document, which the majority of people have not seen, as one of the departure points of the new constitution, but the main issue is that of elections.  

Whether his colleagues in the government agreed with this view or saw it as a threat, one may not be able to judge, but the key issue is that no major leader since that time has publicly committed themselves to ensuring elections are held in a scheduled manner.  

There are also arguments around the life of the current parliament of Zimbabwe and the necessity of having new elections for the same. 

While I do not seek to be in contempt of the legislature, the political reality is that debate will obviously rage in favour of a full five-year term for the august House with reasons such as national healing or completing the legislative agenda of the government being placed on the table as excuses.  

Civil society organisations may fall into the same trap, not because they have five-year mandates but because, being civil society, one has to work with what is at hand, in terms of government.

Further, where there are problematic organisations, co-option of their leaders will be a key component of government counter-strategy against dissent. 

Advocacy and lobbying will be done within government and occasionally donor-preferred parameters, a process in which principle might succumb to expediency in the name of “working with what we have got” or seeking incremental changes without policy confrontations that go beyond what is perceived to be “normal”.

To conclude in a manner that does not unnecessarily ruffle too many feathers, I, in my personal capacity, still insist on voting in two years regardless of the assumed practicalities and excuses that may be proffered for not being allowed to do so.

If indeed, we are in a transition, and if indeed the political leaders in government will remember the very purpose of their inclusive government, they should accept this position and must begin in earnest to work towards its realisation.

The process remains simple; a people-driven constitutional reform process, followed thereafter by a free, fair election in terms of that new constitution.

lZhangazha is National Director of MISA Zimbabwe.  He writes here in his personal capacity.

BY TAKURA ZHANGAZHA

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