By-election results blow to democracy

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THE results of last Wednesday’s by-elections where ruling party Zanu PF swept all 16 constituencies — tightening its vice-like grip in parliament — is a blow for democracy in Zimbabwe as the country is virtually back to the pre-2000 era of de facto one-party state.

Owen Gagare

Zanu PF retained its Headlands and Hurungwe seats following the expulsion of Didymus Mutasa and Temba Mliswa, while gaining 14 seats previously held by former MDC-T members, who are now part of the MDC Renewal which has itself suffered a split. The MDC-T leadership recalled 21 legislators from parliament in March citing their decision to abandon the party to form MDC Renewal.

The by-elections resulted in Zanu PF winning five seats in Bulawayo — the first seats the party has won since 2000 when a then robust MDC first participated in elections.

Zanu PF also won six seats in the MDC stronghold of Harare, while affording one of the party’s chief nemesis since its formation, Jonathan Moyo, a golden opportunity to win back the Tsholotsho North seat.

The decision to recall the 21 legislators and the subsequent by-elections will result in the number and quality of opposition voices, already low, dwindling further in parliament.

Zanu PF now holds 174 elected seats in the National Assembly, while MDC-T has 35; one seat is held by an independent candidate, Jonathan Samkange who has since been readmitted into the ruling party after being expelled when he contested the July 2013 polls as an independent.

The MDC-T recalled some of the most vocal and sharp legislators such as Settlement Chikwinya, Tendai Biti and Willias Madzimure whose contributions resonated with Zimbabweans suffering under a protracted economic crisis, thus affecting the quality of debate in parliament in the process.

The lack of opposition voices in parliament is likely to reduce the legislature into a rubber-stamping parliament, more so considering that Zanu PF – which continues to purge those perceived to belong to fired vice-president Joice Mujuru’s “putchist” camp — has already moved to ban its legislators from raising economic issues in parliament.

The order, which came from Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere who briefed party legislators about the economic difficulties the country was facing, was made ostensibly so that parliamentarians do not expose President Robert Mugabe’s failure to fulfil electoral promises.

And the recalling of the legislators has opened the door for Zanu PF in MDC strongholds like Harare and Bulawayo, which could hurt the opposition’s chances in future elections. Should Zanu PF MPs use state resources, the Constitution Development Fund and other opportunities to develop their constituencies, they stand a chance of capitalising on their incumbency to retain the seats in 2018.
However, MDC-T spokesman Obert Gutu claims losing the seats to Zanu PF was of no consequence given that the party already had a two-thirds majority in parliament.

“After rigging the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections Zanu PF already had a comfortable two- thirds majority in parliament. Thus there is no major difference that an additional 14 seats will make to the Zanu PF parliamentary majority,” he said.

“People should appreciate that in politics, just like in all other aspects of human endeavour, there is no gain without pain. It was very necessary for the MDC to take a radical and tough stance of refusing to participate in any elections without reforms because this is the kind of tough language that a deeply entrenched dictatorship such as the Zanu PF regime can understand. We should focus on the bigger picture rather than be consumed by meaningless short-term gains.”

Gutu says that his party would resoundingly reclaim its territory “as soon as conditions for a free and fair plebiscite are in place”.

“Mind you, Zanu PF is a crumbling edifice and by the time we get to 2018, there will virtually be no Zanu PF to talk about. They are busy decimating each other and at the rate that they are self – cannibalising, Zanu PF will soon be extinct like the dodo of Mauritius,” he said.

“Zanu PF is beyond redemption. Thus, they can never, ever be able to win a free and fair election anywhere under the sun. The economy is imploding and the Zanu PF regime is clueless as regards what to do.”

Commentator Takura Zhangazha said: “This, in and of itself, is subjecting the parliamentary process to arbitrary internal party decisions which cannot be a good thing for democracy during the tenure of office of parliament.”

Zhangazha said although the additional seats won by Zanu PF had limited legislative import in that the party already enjoyed a two-thirds majority and could thus change sections of the constitution and pass acts of parliament without the consent of the opposition, the MDC formations had been naïve by not participating.

“Politically the by-elections give Zanu PF a significant foothold in former opposition constituencies due to the general abuse of incumbency to cement political office.

“A key example in the next year will be how Zanu PF will use the Constituency Development Fund to curry further favour with a disaffected but largely poor and therefore vulnerable electorate,” he said.

“For the MDC parties, the fact that the majority of the recent by-elections were caused by them only to refuse to compete for the same seats indicates a serious lack of political strategy and a further disconnect with issues of ‘realpolitik’.”

The strengthening of Zanu PF in parliament comes at a time Zimbabwe’s opposition parties are failing to take advantage of the succession disputes in Zanu PF which have structurally weakened the party.

The opposition is in fact also disintegrating because of splits and failure by leaders to solve personal differences.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said the MDC parties should have completely pulled out of parliament if they were not happy with the electoral process.

He also questioned the wisdom of the parties participating in the 2013 general elections without reforms, only to cry foul after the polls.

“Elections in Zimbabwe have always been a travesty; take the 2008 elections for example. Zanu PF’s so called victory in the by-elections just exacerbates the travesty. It’s an embarrassment also that the MDC continues to be in parliament when they argue the elections are flawed and refuse to participate in by-elections. They should pull out of parliament to make their point,” he said.
“The duplicity that the MDC is exhibiting allows Zanu PF this kind of loopholes. You can’t boycott parliamentary by-elections but remain in parliament.”

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