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Elections: MDC-T must tread carefully

THE Prime Minister of the inclusive government, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is also the president of the MDC-T has publicly stated that he too is keen on elections being held next year.

The difference between his statement and that of President Robert Mugabe is that PM Tsvangirai insists on the elections being supervised directly by Sadc, the AU and the other components of the international community. His statement is also made with full confidence in his party’s superior popularity to Zanu PF.
However, this popularity may not be adequate for MDC T to win an election to be held presumably by the end of June 2011. Like Zanu PF and Mugabe, in accepting the full possibility of an election by mid next year, Tsvangirai is taking a big political gamble.
The first assumption of this gamble relates to the possibility that he may be calling Mugabe’s bluff and seeking to pressure the latter to accede to outstanding issues in relation to the Global Political Agreement and the inclusive government by threatening an election. Tsvangirai’s assumption is that Mugabe is so well aware of his lack of popularity, the divisions within Zanu PF and the impossibility of wishing the MDC away that the last thing the ageing leader wants is an early election.  So in order to exploit Mugabe’s fears, the leader of the MDC T may have made his acceptance of an election next year as a way of getting Mugabe to allow him more influence in government and in order to address the now seemingly permanent “outstanding issues”.
The second assumption that Tsvangirai makes over and about elections next year is that the intervention of Sadc, the AU and other intergovernmental organisations have kept the same amount of interest in the Zimbabwean political crisis as they did particularly in the period leading to the signing of the GPA. Or even if he does not view things in that manner, he may at least think that the call for an election will re-ignite a waning interest in intervening in Zimbabwe’s crisis. He also anticipates that President Jacob Zuma will probably not be as stubborn as former president Thabo Mbeki as the Sadc appointed facilitator by dealing with outstanding issues with a greater sense of urgency.
The truth of the matter is that Zuma has demonstrated neither urgency nor full engagement with the Zimbabwean inclusive government since the August 2010 Sadc summit or in the aftermath of the MDC T’s statement of protest over ambassadors and governors. At best Zuma has maintained the quiet diplomacy approach but without indicating a substantive timetable or inducing commitments to full implementation of the GPA from Mugabe. Tsvangirai must also be wary of the decreasing levels of the acceptance of the Zimbabwean crisis as a Sadc problem, especially when President Ian Khama of Botswana and newly re-elected President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania seem to be less direct in their attitude towards our country.
The third speculation that Tsvangirai makes is that his party’s structures are intact and ready to mobilise the public in the next half year to be prepared to vote. It is however more likely to be true that the greater majority of MDC structures have been adversely affected by the selective nature of those that were chosen to participate in the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac), the elitist functioning of the inclusive government and by internal displacement due to the political violence of 2008.
These supporters may not be in a position to heed the call to fully prepare to face Zanu PF in an election as soon as mid next year.  Add to this the possibility of the potential attempt to recruit MDC-T members by the newly re-launched PF Zapu and the more region-centred MDC-M, and all pointers lead to the fact that Tsvangirai may be in need of a thorough and urgent reactivation of his party structures.
A fourth assumption that Tsvangirai makes is that his party will get a resounding “yes” vote to the constitutional draft that will be drafted by Copac simply because of his party’s popularity. What he may not be aware of is that there is still the strong possibility of a joint “yes” campaign with Zanu PF for different reasons but with potentially the same effect, that of painting both parties with the same brush. The attendant biased state media coverage of such a process will inevitably present Zanu PF, as it did with the recent Copac outreach process, as being a step ahead of the game. An added factor would also be the “no” vote campaign that will possibly be undertaken by the NCA, ZCTU and Zinasu, which will have the effect of weakening the MDC-Ts support base at the referendum, and at a potential general election in June 2011.
A fifth assumption being made by the MDC-T leader in agreeing to elections next year is that the majority of Zimbabweans are raring to go to the polls. It may be true that the majority of supporters of the MDC-T will do as instructed by their national party leadership but this may not be so for the majority of Zimbabweans. It is looking increasingly possible that unless issues of redress for the politically motivated violence of 2008 and before are addressed adequately the turnout at the proposed poll will be that of mainly party supporters and not necessarily of the general populace.  In such an instance, any possible electoral victory for the MDC-T will not be a resounding one.
The sixth and final gamble (there are many more but the shortage of  space limits the ability to address all of them) being undertaken by Tsvangirai is that he will be able to maintain the support of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the international donor community for his cause and processes in the next half year. The reality is that there are now many more competitors for the support of the CSOs and donors. These include the nascent devolution CSOs and the newly reformed or reforming political parties that may not be as popular as the MDC-T but are in with a shout in some regions of the country. Even Zanu PF will be a competitor for the same especially if it outlines some sort of Mugabe succession plan.
So the acceptance of the possibility of elections next year by Tsvangirai is a big political gamble. He is faced with the possibility of a technical defeat if his house and strategies are not in order. Even though he probably feels that it is Mugabe who has the most to lose, a potential victory for his party, come June 2011, will not be by default.


By Takura Zhangazha.

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