Unintended consequences of chicanery

WHEN Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruled that President Robert Mugabe should proclaim the dates of the general elections by July 31 in order to avoid further violations of the constitution, there were and still are bitter disputes over the judges’ interpretation of the law.

Opinion by Pedzisayi Ruhanya

My contention is not to address legal matters, but to analyse and interpret the unintended political consequences of these developments in the context of the robust Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) communiqué during its summit last weekend in Maputo, Mozambique, where, among other things, Mugabe was urged to approach the court to vary the ruling.

The decision by Sadc to ask Mugabe and his coalition partners to postpone the election dates by at least two weeks and to return to parliament to pass the amendments to the Electoral Act which he had made by decree through the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act could be pointers to the regional body’s growing impatience with Zanu PF’s resistance to agreed democratic reforms in preparation for free and fair elections.

Firstly, the urgency with which Mugabe embraced the decision of the court and his purported attempts to position himself as an adherent to the rule of law made his critics believe what was happening was a clear case of judicial subversion under the cloak of legality given his glaring disregard of the same during his 33-year authoritarian rule.
Mugabe and Zanu PF have a long history of undermining the rule of law and ignoring court orders, dating back to the 1980s during the Gukurahundi massacres and illegal detentions of PF Zapu supporters under the cover of the state of emergency.

Besides, Mugabe also pardoned convicted Zanu PF-aligned political criminals, while failing to protect the independence of the courts and safety of lawyers. This also happened during the Patrick Kombayi shooting case and more recently during the 2008 electoral violence.

Prior to that, between 2000 and 2009, “undesirable” judges were removed, lawyers attacked and court rulings ignored with impunity.

Against this backdrop, it is a monumental legal and political fallacy for Mugabe and his allies, among them hired intellectuals and blind supporters, to claim that his main interest in implementing the Concourt order is to uphold the rule of law. His history is clear: he is a past master of selective application of the law and ignoring court orders.

So that is why Zimbabweans and regional leaders do not believe his charade that he is more concerned about constitutionalism and the rule of law, and not the politics behind that.

The Sadc communiqué and the consequent humiliation of Mugabe in Maputo over this issue have a lot of ramifications for both himself as a presidential candidate and the raging internal strife in his deeply divided Zanu PF mainly in the context of the party’s raging succession politics.

Those in Zanu PF, who were not consulted in the plot by party hardliners associated with a certain faction to involve the Concourt into the matrix of political manoeuvres aimed at dribbling past Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube while resolving internal succession matters, as well as making decisions in the determination of electoral processes, especially the setting of the elections dates, are now digesting and interpreting the outcome of the summit.

One of the unintended consequences of the Maputo summit is that Zanu PF hardliners have invited unnecessary scrutiny on themselves.

The factional fights associated with Zanu PF could be nasty and destabilising ahead of elections, and these battles have now spilt into the courts. Although they thought they were going to outmanoeuvre their rivals inside and outside Zanu PF, the hardliners clearly invited trouble for both Mugabe and their party.

While they thought they have finally found a key strategy, it will not escape the attention of Zanu PF hardliners and that of their opponents that their actions have weakened and humiliated Mugabe, while giving Tsvangirai and Ncube some momentum which they appeared to have lost in the wake of the controversial Concourt ruling. Many now see them as law-abiding victims of a choreographed political strategy to subvert the democratic process under the guise of legality.

The resultant commotion and infighting within Zanu PF could be dominating the corridors power ahead of elections.

The political chicanery associated with Mugabe’s brazen and hardline political strategists to railroad the country into sham elections, whose outcome would inevitably be disputed, has now been exposed and in the process put Sadc and the international community on high alert amid unfolding attempts to manipulate and influence the electoral processes and outcomes.

Further, the call by Sadc to deploy its observers immediately also means that there could be little room for Zanu PF to organise and unleash state-sponsored violence and intimidation on the scale of June 2008.

Most critically, the deployment of Sadc observers during the ongoing co-ordinated disenfranchisement of voters under the voter registration exercise, which is being manipulated by officers from the Registrar-General’s Office, will expose the glaring cocktail of Zanu PF’s attempts to deny thousands of citizens, especially those previously regarded as aliens and urban residents, their constitutional and democratic right to vote in the upcoming elections.

The historic and tough decision by Sadc compelling the coalition government to have its officials seconded to the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) to sit and participate in meetings and not merely observe the proceedings or receive reports as demanded by Zanu PF hardliners means that in the coming elections, Sadc will contribute substantively to the decision-making processes. This will make their input on the electoral processes and outcomes more solid than before.

In this context, Sadc’s observation of Zimbabwe’s imminent elections could be decisive in creating an environment for credible, free, fair and legitimate elections. It is also indicative of the resolve by the regional bloc not to tolerate any more of Mugabe and his party’s willful defiance of the Sadc principles and guidelines governing the conduct of democratic elections to which Zimbabwe is a state party.

Most significantly, Sadc’s confrontation with the military’s partisan role in political and electoral processes in Zimbabwe is critical. The regional body has addressed the elephant in the room and hit the nail on its head when it called for their non-interference in civilian political processes.

Attendant to this was the call to amend repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Informantion and Protection of Privacy Act, some of the most lethal Zanu PF weapons mainly during elections.

These laws, together with a plethora of other repressive legislation, hugely impinge on citizens and opposition parties’ civil and political liberties at all times, including during elections period. These laws and the security apparatus have been used by the Zanu PF regime to rig the process and influence electoral outcomes.

Zanu PF’s political hardliners did not see this coming as they concentrated on using the courts to achieve their political agendas.

But by their very misguided activities, they have unwittingly cornered Mugabe and the party before elections. The collateral damage is going to be huge. Equally so, the political harvest made by MDC parties and associated democratic forces are critical, especially if they start galvanising and mobilising their supporters using this momentum gained in Maputo.

Their message should be simple: Sadc is behind democratic processes leading to elections in this country and let’s go en masse to vote for change.

Some of the reforms captured in the Sadc communiqué may have been forgotten had the hardliners in Zanu PF not mischievously approached the courts by proxy and misled Mugabe to unilaterally announce election dates and make amendments to the Electoral Act by decree when parliament is still active.

What is now clear is that the misguided court application and the consequent foolhardy advice to Mugabe have produced unintended consequences which largely benefit the democratic processes in Zimbabwe and critically those who were supposed to be outfoxed: Tsvangirai and Ncube.

With each passing day, it is becoming clear that Tsvangirai and Ncube are finding more common political ground not because of their manoeuvres, but because of events triggered by the mistakes of mainly by Zanu PF hardliners.

Tsvangirai and Ncube, as shown by events in Maputo, are getting closer by political default and may soon both realise they seriously have a lot to gain by forming a coalition to tackle Mugabe and Zanu PF in the interests of Zimbabweans, not personal glory.

After the Concourt ruling, the MDC formations and other parties found themselves calling for an urgent meeting where they agreed to mount a united resistance front against what they believe was an unreasonable judgment which they thought was politically motivated.

The result of that was the apparent division of labour between Tsvangirai and Ncube in Maputo in which the former dealt with political issues exposing the plot behind all this, while Ncube used his sharp legal mind to tear to pieces the contrived legal case.
Should the MDC formations continue to unite around the critical national democratic interest, it may not be too late to realise that an electoral pact to dislodge Zanu PF in the next polls is a viable option.

Given all this, it is clear the Zanu PF hardliners’ ill-advised actions, which were meant to address internal and external issues, have produced unintended consequences.

Ruhanya is director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.