Buck still stops with the MDCs

AS expected, Sadc’s observer mission report on Zimbabwe’s July 31 general elections to end a dysfunctional coalition government endorsed the poll as “free, peaceful and generally credible”.

Editor’s Memo with Stewart Chabwinja

After the regional bloc and AU observers had initially described the poll as free and non-violent, and the selection of President Robert Mugabe as Sadc deputy chair, a thumbs-up report was a fait accompli.

Predictable as it was, Sadc’s ringing endorsement is a further setback for the MDC-T which is smarting from the worst defeat at the polls since first contesting it in 2000.

The MDC-T can justifiably feel aggrieved that the report glosses over some of the electoral process’s major shortcomings which rendered the poll “a monumental fraud by state security agents and Zanu PF” –– to quote its post-poll statement.

Indisputably a litany of factors deliberately fashioned by Zanu PF, chief among which was a controversially fixed polling date, a chaotic voters’ registration process, a “shambolic” voters’ roll, massive disenfranchisement wrought by the turning away of mostly urban registered voters, and electoral and other state institutions brazenly on Mugabe’s side, effectively tipped the voting scales in Mugabe’s favour.

Yet all these adverse factors cannot absolve the MDC formations from being the authors of their own spectacular downfall.

Whatever the final verdict on Sadc’s mediation efforts as guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) there can be no denying the MDC-T enjoyed much goodwill from Sadc, as evidenced by a series of Sadc communiqués favourable to the party’s cause during the tenure of the GPA.

While Sadc would diplomatically express satisfaction over progress towards the full implementation of the GPA despite scant proof, it was unambiguous in insisting there would be no elections before reforms.

Such was Sadc’s resolve in helping deliver a Zimbabwean rarity in the form of free, fair and undisputed elections that its thrust sufficiently riled Mugabe, perceived to have perfected rigging, that he threatened to quit Sadc and publicly insulted Zuma’s facilitation team spokesperson Lindiwe Zulu, deriding her as a “stupid street woman”.

Unfortunately, lulled into a false sense of security by their entry into government and an increasingly cosy Mugabe-Tsvangirai alliance, the parties squandered the leverage accorded by Sadc’s stance as the trappings of power took their toll on them, blurring the vision required for effective strategy for electoral triumph.

Zulu confirmed the MDCs strategic maladroitness, saying they failed to use their influence during the protracted talks to secure reforms from Zanu PF before elections.

“We were really shocked by the MDC negotiators who failed to pin down Zanu PF to implement reforms,” Zulu told this paper on the sidelines of the recent Sadc summit in Lilongwe, Malawi.

“There was a well-stipulated Sadc-initiated roadmap to be followed to the letter until elections were held, but the MDC negotiators decided not to push for its implementation.”

Despite repeated warnings from progressive and pro-democracy forces not to sleep at the wheel, glaring naivety saw Tsvangirai readily accept a poisoned chalice by agreeing to supervise poll preps in a “facilitative” role, which resulted in him even defending the staffing of Zec despite his party’s gripe it was run by Mugabe’s supporters.

To cap it all, the MDCs agreed to participate in rushed polls despite outstanding reforms, with Tsvangirai declaring victory was certain on the eve of the elections — even without the voters’ roll.

So while the MDCs might have a case for crying foul over the electoral process and outcome, Tsvangirai was repeatedly warned he had forfeited the right to question the conduct of elections due to his superintending role.

In the absence of widespread dissent over the poll results a weary Sadc has evidently decided it is time to move on; the Zimbabwean crisis is a closed chapter.