MDC-T paying price for gravy train ride

THE MDC-T’s signing of the September 15 2008 Sadc-facilitated Global Political Agreement (GPA) and its subsequent entry into the resultant coalition government was a turning point in its short but dramatic history.

Report by Paidamoyo Muzulu
The labour-based party found itself facing divisions as its allies in civic society, business and the working class, as well as supporters, debated whether to go or not into the triumvirate coalition.

 
Those who opposed the move to join the inclusive government argued that if the party went in the contagion effect of sharing power with the discredited Zanu PF would erode its credibility and hence support base. They argued joining the “gravy train” would damage reputation of the MDC-T as a party claiming to be fighting for a democratic, transparent and accountable government. They feared the party would be tainted, not just by association with a failed regime but also by lack of delivery and corruption, among other problems which characterised Zanu PF rule.

 
Those who opposed the idea of going into a unity government strongly felt the MDC-T would lose its ideological identity and character during a risky political marriage with a party whose philosophical core and ideologues were unable or unwilling to embrace reform.

 
The sceptics also pointed out the unity government was a godsend for Zanu PF as it would give the embattled and faction-riddled party the breathing space it badly needed to reorganise and reinvent itself so that it could come back a much stronger party in the next elections widely expected next year.

 
The same group further argued the MDC-T thus risked handing Zanu PF — which in 2008 lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since Independence in 1980 and only managed to save itself from disintegration after President Robert Mugabe stormed back to power through a campaign of terror – a new lease of life.

 
The inclusive government thus gave the comatose party, choking in the heat of a political and economic meltdown, characterised by unprecedented hyperinflation and one of the fastest shrinking economies in the world outside a war zone, a respite. This was particularly welcome to Mugabe and Zanu PF given that political instability had begun to manifest itself in dangerous ways as demonstrated by security forces rioting in the streets of Harare, and an increasingly restive population fed up with a worsening socio-economic crisis.

 
The group which opposed the coalition idea was clear the move would only help to revive Mugabe and Zanu PF. It was under no illusions about that.

 
However, there was another school of thought — which eventually carried the day — that insisted entering the coalition government was a golden chance for the MDC-T to neutralise Zanu PF and destroy it from within. This group argued going inside was a great opportunity to seize power from within through an array of measures including taking control of key institutions and agencies of government. In the process Zanu PF, which has virtually collapsed into the state, would be neutralised and denied access to state resources to support its operations.

 
The MDC-T, it was said, would move into strategic institutions and positions, taking over and introducing reforms which would create a reformed state and conditions for free and fair elections.

 
Besides, the opportunity of joining the coalition government was seen as critical because it would offer the MDC-T and its leaders apprenticeship in government to gain necessary experience and prepare for the future.
This was further buttressed by the illusion of power which MDC-T Morgan Tsvangirai was given through the GPA which allowed him to share executive authority with Mugabe, hold Council of Ministers meetings and supervise ministers, while leading government business in parliament. Tsvangirai was also Mugabe’s deputy in cabinet, meaning in theory if the president was not there he would chair government’s highest policy-making body and preside over meetings making important decisions.

 
In all this labyrinth of representations, theories, philosophical and practical considerations, there was also a group which pushed a moral argument that the MDC-T must go into government for the sake of the long-suffering people who had endured horrors of political repression and economic collapse. This argument was persuasive as it was not political but ethical and  based on morality.

 
So enter the coalition government the MDC-T did.

 
However, three-and-a-half years down the line the MDC-T is now paying a huge price. Those who opposed going in are now feeling vindicated. Those who pushed for it are unable to justify their move. And those who put moral over political considerations are beginning to appreciate how the world of realpolitik works.

 
The political price the MDC-T is now paying is huge. This is worsened by its leadership and policy failures in government. The party’s numerous excesses, mainly on corruption and personal aggrandisement by its leaders, are beginning to seriously damage its image and wear away popular support.

 
Some of the MDC-T members in public office – like predecessors Zanu PF – are now case studies of rags-to-riches tales or monuments to failure.

 
This has dashed hopes of real change among trusting Zimbabweans. Instead of a paradigm shift in public administration, MDC officials just took a ride on the gravy train and seem to be enjoying the trappings of office, flashy cars and posh houses.

 
On joining the unity government the MDC-T promised to make its public office bearers declare their assets but this has not helped to prevent corruption. The only “stern” action the MDC-T has taken to date is the recent expulsion of 35 councilors from its ranks across the country on charges of corruption.

 
Following the damning Freedom House public opinion survey on elections, which said the MDC-T’s popularity since joining the coalition government was plunging, secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti – who was among those who feared going in was suicidal – acknowledged there is a problem.

 
“The MDC’s presence in government brought its own contradictions. The first was that internally, a clear chasm developed between the grassroots party and its members seconded into government. Suddenly, one group was now driving Mercedes Benzes and on the face of it now on par with the Zanu PF effigy of power and corruption,” Biti wrote in a local weekly last week.

 
MDC-T’s tainted image has become a topic for study among political think-tanks.

 
According to the Freedom House survey comparing statistics for 2012 to those of 2010, the MDC-T support base has declined from 38% to 20% while its main rival, Zanu PF, has gained ground from 17% to 31%.

 
Freedom House, among other factors, cited corruption in public office by MDC-T officials and dissatisfaction with some leaders as reasons for its support decline in the last two years.

 
“Leadership fatigue and battles, along with the MDC-T in office often being exposed as comparable in corruption to Zanu PF helped complicate the MDC-T’s early years in a joint-but-dominated power. This dented its popular standing,” Freedom House says.

 
Given all this, it is clear the MDC-T is paying the price for joining and enjoying the gravy train ride.