THE coming general elections are of great significance in that they could decisively address a range of national questions, among them President Robert Mugabe’s long overdue political retirement, a possible slide back to authoritarian rule and the country’s economic and social issues.
Opinion by Pedzisayi Ruhanya
While the benefits of the inclusive government are contested, the apparent economic and political stability brought by these parties working together are too apparent to ignore.
The introduction of the multi-currency system in the economy and constant calls for people to shun political violence and embrace peace by political principals assisted to bring modest economic recovery and consequently the availability of goods on the shelves and restoration of order in social service delivery.
Ironically, it was Mugabe’s failed political and economic policies that had reduced Zimbabweans to beggars.
The MDC parties’ involvement in a coalition government was therefore undeniably critical in the stabilisation of the economy and state politics.
They were magnanimous to share state power with a leader of a political party that was responsible for both the economic and political meltdown in the country and the killing of their supporters.
Thus the choices in the next elections could be simple and clear for those who want to wrest power and for the generality of Zimbabweans who were reduced to penury — importing basic items like salt, sugar, bread and milk from neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana.
It is either people vote to move forward on the path of economic, social and political stability or to slide back to authoritarian governance replete with repression, poverty, food shortages and spiralling unemployment.
Things could become far worse if the talk of bringing back the defunct Zimbabwe dollar materialises after the polls.
These are some of the hard issues Zimbabweans should ponder before they vote albeit under intimidation, empty promises and tired slogans which have proved vacuous for over a generation now.
There is also need for voters to critically examine all the dark historical epochs that Zimbabwe experienced under the 33 years of Mugabe’s leadership such as the Gukurahundi massacres, the 2000, 2002 and 2008 violent elections and the horrendous Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 to see if such a regime deserves to remain in charge of national affairs.
The recurrence of such gross human rights violations could be a cause for citizens to make hard decisions as to whether the Zanu PF political cabal deserves to remain in power given its atrocious record.
Across the world, regimes with such records have been voted out of power overwhelmingly by citizens who wanted to move their nations forward. In Zimbabwe, a white racist and oppressive regime was replaced by a black government which has now, unfortunately, perfected the art of repression and committed equally heinous crimes during its reign.
Mugabe’s frailty, as age catches up with him with months left before he turns 90 and fears of ill-health, could also be the rationale for Zimbabweans to peacefully retire him through the ballot in the forthcoming polls.
Surely, why should Zimbabweans continue to trouble and burden such an old man by demanding state responsibilities when it is clear he can no longer cope with the hectic schedules and rigours of running a modern government?
To those who will vote for Mugabe, they should ask themselves what can he do now which he failed to do in 33 years, especially when he is frequently visiting the Far East on health grounds. Why should people continue to elect a leader whose health situation is in doubt and who fuels the situation by keeping it a secret?
What guarantee is there that Mugabe at 89, if re-elected into power, will finish his constitutional term of five years at 94? Zanu PF leaders involved in the constitution-making process put a section in the new constitution which says if he is incapacitated, retires or dies, he will be replaced by someone from his party — a departure from the previous provisions — clearly anticipating that he might not even finish his term.
Those who will vote for Mugabe should seriously consider the fact that they could be indirectly be voting for someone they are not sure would be able to finish his term as feared by Zanu PF officials.
Given Mugabe’s old age and ill-health, it would be like Zimbabweans would be asked by Zanu PF to vote indirectly for Vice-President Joice Mujuru or Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa or whoever is likely to take over if Mugabe does not finish his term for one reason or another.
Under such circumstances, citizens should exercise their right to vote in this election wisely and the only reasonable thing to do is to retire the president through the impending ballot in order to avoid unintended consequences of electing indirectly people who have not submitted themselves to the presidential election.
The political retirement via the electoral process could also be an opportunity for Zimbabweans to assist Zanu PF to address its explosive and uncertainty-ridden succession issue. The party has shown that it has no succession plan to replace Mugabe, and this is dangerous for the future of the country.
While it could be difficult to have a democratic breakthrough in an electoral authoritarian regime such as Zimbabwe, it is possible that credible, free and fair elections — in the unlikely event they would be such — could provide opportunities to consolidate the gains of the past five years in the area of economic affairs. A slide-back to the repression and economic ruin could be disastrous.
The next elections offer Zimbabweans an opportunity to move the country forward by consolidating the economic and political gains of the past five years, built on the basis of whatever remains of the achievements of the past.
The gains of the new constitution, no matter how flawed it is, in the areas of civil, political and economic liberties as captured in Chapter 4 and security reforms principles guaranteed in the supreme law in Section 208, are critical advances that cannot simply be discarded by voting for those wantonly violated them in the past.
However, those who are fighting for democratic change should be cautioned that if elections remain a non-competitive sham and an occasion to smash opponents of the incumbent and his party, they should be rejected as a criterion for democracy.
However, if elections cause significant governance changes, they may be a sign of the presence of some democratic practices in the polity.
This means that the on-going voter registration should be rigorously monitored and the voters’ roll must be credible so that there is no opportunity to rig the outcome.
It also means every citizen, especially the democratic contingent, should sweat for the victory they want; they won’t be any freeloading.
We must remember a state is governed democratically if governmental office is allocated on the basis of competitive, free and fair elections.
The idea of administering credible polls that offer citizens varied choices in an environment where civil liberties are not violated are characteristics that all democracies have in common and that non-democratic forms of government lack.
This is the message the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) and the Registrar-General, the two institutions responsible for administering elections, should get loud and clear.
The political shenanigans of the past polls, especially the sham 2008 election, administered by the majority of the secretariat in the current Zec, would not be acceptable by anyone except those who benefit from such electoral thievery and thus must be avoided. All eyes will be on Zec.
Despite stolen elections in the past, Zimbabweans have constantly chosen peaceful elections to elect their leaders and determine their future. This is because elections are a barometer for defining democracy, if not manipulated.
So our next leaders must be chosen through fair and honest elections in which candidates freely compete for votes in a process allowing for an unrestricted exercise of universal suffrage.
For the sake of the country and future generations, and to salvage whatever remains of his legacy, Zimbabweans must retire Mugabe in the next elections and give him time to enjoy in retreat what remains of his otherwise long life.
Ruhanya is director for Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.