Zimbabwe faces elections without a choice

THE forthcoming general election pencilled for the first half of next year is sure to provide everything that a ballot vote should. Political passion on the part of the electorate, media frenzy and international attention, among other things, are all certain to characterise the event.

Report By Mthulisi Mathuthu

And yet it may turn out to be a contest that politicians will, in the end, spoil for themselves.

With about five parties set to contest it does seem there is a wide choice for the electorate and yet when set against the contestants’ individual shortcomings, the choice becomes an illusion. While the leaders of the three main political parties, Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T), Robert Mugabe (Zanu PF) and Welshman Ncube (MDC) are likely to battle it out in the presidential race may differ in terms of both style and approach to politics, they are however united by one flaw: an image crisis — all of them. Their strengths are outweighed by bad reputations, lack of vision and clarity on issues.

Tsvangirai’s stock-in-trade and major currency, which include the perception that he represents hope and a democratic future, has got contempt to contend with.

This spreading contempt, largely a result of the dramatisation of Tsvangirai’s flaws and indiscretions, comes at a time when his party’s fortunes are diminishing as evidenced by recent public opinion polls.

Freedom House recently said Tsvangirai’s MDC-T has taken a dramatic plunge from 38% to 20% in popularity stakes, while Zanu PF has recovered from 17% to 31%. The survey however had a proviso: 47% of the potential voters were undecided.

By contrast, both Mugabe and Ncube are not held in contempt. Both have an intellectual and serious outlook. Their common weakness though is that they both generate anger and hatred for different reasons to different constituencies and interests.

Given his record as a tyrant and the length of time he has spent at the helm with disastrous consequences for the country, Mugabe is just a non-starter in a free and fair election. However, given that Zimbabwe is unlikely to hold anything like a genuine and credible poll while Mugabe is still in power and his in-built advantages, the incumbent remains a critical player.

With regards to Ncube, the hatred which mainly feeds from the perception that he is a spoiler as opposed to being a national leader, has become almost lethal as it has been bought by some sections of the international community as the BBC HardTalk interview indicated. Ncube’s task is even harder given Zimbabwe’s anachronistic chronic problem of identity politics — a subject for exploration some other day.

However, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Ncube share one advantage: a ready audience to whom they can sell their agendas. Since 2000, the Zimbabwean electorate has steadily risen from slumber to become highly politically-conscious and participatory.

In fact, the good thing is the majority of people are becoming increasingly less influenced by primitive racial and ethnic instincts in their political choices as ideological and policy issues take centre-stage. Of course, dinosaurs will always be there resisting change.

Over the years voter apathy and indifference have made way for heightened political consciousness and participation, pulling the country out of a quasi one-party state scenario. This political consciousness has thrived despite state terrorism remaining active. But, as things stand today, it seems this positive trend may be failed by the candidates’ flaws.

It does seem that a new coalition government is the only realistic outcome of the coming elections — a result which may turn out to be disappointment to some Zimbabweans and some sections of the international community even if it may be the best option for the country.

While a new unity government may be acceptable in some quarters as a better option than an outright Zanu PF or MDC-T victory, such a prospect is not without dangers. Already facing contempt and international scepticism, Tsvangirai may whither beyond recovery, meaning that somebody might have to emerge. And yet within the MDC-T, at least for now, nobody seems appropriate to inherit his mantle.

Moreover, the MDC-T, indeed the original MDC before the 2005 split, was mobilised under the name and image of Tsvangirai, meaning that if he were to be removed the party would have to face two questions: who would replace him and would that person measure up? In other words, it’s a succession issue.

On the Zanu PF side, Mugabe has practically reached his sell-by date due to old age and ill-health, as well as his leadership and policy failures. But the Zanu PF succession crisis is almost like a terminal disease afflicting the party.

Essentially, the two parties will become vulnerable with regards to succession. That may in turn lead to the two parties closing ranks for mutual survival after the elections, especially if no clear winner emerges. This then suggests a grand coalition: another inclusive government. In which case, Ncube might choose to remain in opposition casting his vision beyond the horizon.

Having said all this, it is clear Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Ncube, in the current scheme of things, are not viable candidates to take Zimbabwe forward. With so little to choose from the main parties and candidates in the next polls, whose campaigns are likely to be marked by vitriolic personal abuse, propaganda and dirty tricks, it seems Zimbabweans are facing elections without any real choice.

Mathuthu is a Zimbabwean journalist based in London.

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