MDC-T democracy: Chip off the old block

THE MDC-T, whose catchphrase is “change”, has since its formation promised it would embrace a different political culture and open the democratic space in the country to ensure power is not concentrated in the hands of the executive, but is distributed to other arms of the estate — parliament and the judiciary.

Report by Brian Chitemba

A new democratic dispensation would be introduced once the MDC-T came to power, people were repeatedly told. Ordinary people would strongly influence government policies in a refreshingly different bottom-up approach to governance.

This would mark a departure from the top-down Zanu PF style in which leaders had arrogated themselves unfettered powers and latitude to decide what was  good for the electorate.

However, after a few years in the trenches before tasting the trappings of power following the formation of the unity government in February 2009 the MDC-T appears to be backtracking on its promises and committing aberrations in moves that smack of betrayal of its founding principles and values. The party seems to be abandoning its core ideology and philosophy as it drifts away from founding doctrines.

In a series of actions which have raised eyebrows among its supporters, the party has removed term limits for its leader; is now moving to discard primaries; and is fast embracing the personality cult around its leader Morgan Tsvangirai besides joining the Zanu PF gravy train of corruption and looting.

Although the MDC-T remains a major political force capable of winning the next elections, it is fast abandoning its democratic framework and promises.

The latest example of this deviation is its plans to circumvent open primary elections which are normal party procedure, to ring-fence incumbent MPs and senior party leaders, mainly ministers, facing challenges from aspiring legislators.

In democratic systems, candidates for parliamentary elections are elected freely and openly by party members, and secure the party ticket to be the candidates.

However, indications are that the MDC-T is now willing to ride roughshod over its own principles by abandoning the popular and transparent primaries in favour of imposition of candidates, a recurring theme within Zanu PF where it has caused ructions and deep divisions.

While Zanu PF openly imposes candidates much to the detriment of popularity, the MDC-T is now trying to do the same although it seeks to camouflage such a move by couching it as a “confirmation” process for sitting MPs. Tellingly, the party has so far failed to explain how the confirmations would be conducted.

Tsvangirai was initially supposed to serve two five-year terms, but the party shredded its constitution, arguing he would only step down after unseating Mugabe.

Tsvangirai was also accused of refusing to contest the 2006 senatorial elections although senior party officials voted in favour of participating in the polls, resulting in the late Gibson Sibanda and Welshman Ncube pulling out of the party in protest over his “dictatorial tendencies”.

In 2008, the MDC-T fielded two candidates in some constituencies after junior officials were barred from standing against senior leaders, a development which split the vote and divided votes especially in the Midlands Province, robbing the party of a clear victory.
Political pundits have urged the MDC-T to uphold its principles and values if it is to remain a genuine and viable alternative.

Political commentator Blessing Vava said the strange methods adopted by the MDC-T were a clear indication the party’s in-house democracy was shaky.

“The MDC-T leadership does not practise what it preaches,” said Vava. “They are denying other people their democratic right to participate in primary elections through self-serving rules and guidelines. It’s totally against what they ought to stand for, it’s undemocratic.”

He added: “Forcing the electorate to rally behind the incumbent legislators is a bad move because most of them have failed voters and their constituencies,” said Vava. “Some MPs have not done much since 2008 and this may adversely impact on the MDC-T’s performance in the forthcoming polls.”

Another political analyst Chamu Mutasa said the removal of the MDC-T presidential term limits, Tsvangirai’s unilateral decision over senatorial elections and the abandoning of primaries show the MDC-T might be a cut from the Zanu PF cloth.

“What’s the difference between Zanu PF and MDC-T?” asked Mutasa. “The parties don’t value democratic principles as they claim. It’s more disappointing for MDC-T supporters because their party is borrowing Zanu PF tactics.”

However, Bulawayo-based political commentator Effie Ncube said there is a world of difference between Zanu PF and the MDC-T. He said the confirmation process, instead of primaries, was designed to prevent internal rifts which could worsen during primary elections that tend to be acrimonious.

Ncube said it was easier for sitting MPs to continue mobilising support than to choose new representatives.

“The idea is to minimise infighting and achieve unity ahead of elections,” said Ncube. “It’s a strategy to keep the MPs in touch with their supporters and win elections.”
With elections fast approaching, the MDC-T could pay dearly for adopting some Zanu PF’s methods while abandoning its founding principles and values.

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