Why elections won’t solve the crisis

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The deep crisis in the state was neatly expressed by Brian Kagoro at last week’s Pan-Africa Lecture at Southern African Political Economy Series (Sapes). He posed the notion that Zimbabwe suffers from three interlocking tragedies:

Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler,Academics

  • A crisis of leadership and followership;
  • Leaders with power have no ideas and those with ideas have no power; and
  • A country that runs on memory and not imagination.

We do not have to explain these in any detail as the three tragedies are evident to all and played out everyday. They underpin almost every aspect of the collapse that is taking place around the citizenry daily.

The big question raised by Kagoro is the need for radical reform of the state-regime conflation, the need for a comprehensive and sustainable political settlement, far beyond Lancaster House, the Unity Accord and the Global Political Agreement. And the question is how will an election do this?

Firstly, we must be the sceptics and suggest that this crisis has emerged irrespective of the results of any of the elections since 2000. Power has never changed hands, even when the ruling party lost, and it can be plausibly suggested that the ruling party has no intention of losing an election, even in the face of a “grand coalition”.

Secondly, the prevailing facts suggest that the fractured state of the ruling party predicates against them going to an election. The deep divisions within Zanu PF, and the failure to organise an agreed succession for the presidency, mean that the party is locked into being dependent upon President Robert Mugabe being their only plausible contender in 2018. This is clearly a very dangerous situation for the party.

Assuming that Mugabe is unable, for whatever reason, to be the candidate of their “choice”, who can Zanu PF put forward that could meet the double jeopardy of both winning a “popular vote” and being plausibly acceptable to the region? So, despite all the rhetoric of giving us two million jobs, we would suggest that the party must be considering options other than an election.

We would suggest four alternatives to the current pre-occupation with the mooted poll in 2018. We would also suggest that these are alternatives being actively canvassed by factions within the party.
Firstly, there are strong indications that a “silent coup” is being prepared. As is well-known, Africa no longer tolerates the overt coups of old, and hence the only strategy can be to take over structures of the party and the state. However, the constitutional mechanism for this is highly problematic in the absence of the president dying or being infirm, or the party, defying the president, deciding to elect a successor.

Secondly, there must be serious consideration being given to the possibility that the president either dies or becomes too infirm to continue to govern. There will be 90 days before the Zanu PF, being the party from which the president was elected, will announce to the Speaker who its candidate is, and that person shall then be president for the duration of the remaining term of the presidency.

This option has been explained in detail by Derek Matyszak in Succession and the Zanu PF Body Politic. Since the replacement of the president lies within the party and not the parliament, those that control the party will control the succession. In fact, this will mean the successor will govern only until August 2018, being the latest time for the holding of the general election, but it may also be that this scenario leads to the setting up of a government of national unity (GNU) and the postponing of elections.

Thirdly, the succession crisis could be resolved through the president pre-emptively calling an elective congress and electing his successor, something he has alluded to on several occasions.

The successor, whoever he or she might be, would then be the candidate of choice for the 2018 poll. It is not so clear that this approach to succession necessarily aims at fighting an election: it can also be argued that it is a preliminary to setting up a GNU.

A possible modification here is that the arrangement may also create a GNU, with an arrangement similar to that of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), except with a titular presidency and an executive prime minister, a reversal in roles from the previous inclusive government.

Finally, there is the option of calling an early election and hence pre-empting the difficulties of an aged and frail candidate. This would be a sensible strategy, but may be unworkable due to the serious divisions within the party over succession anyhow, and dangerous in the memory of the 2008 poll.
For all of these scenarios, it is possible that they can aim at avoiding elections, at least postponing them in the interests of “stability”, and it is clear that “stability” is becoming the strong desire for all — national, regional and international.

And for those that argue that this will be unconstitutional, we would point out that constitutional niceties frequently fly out the window when there is a crisis of sufficient magnitude to threaten the existence of both the state and the international order. Remember both Lancaster House and the GPA: constitutions can be amended when the need is too pressing!

In none of these possible scenarios, does the critical solution to the three tragedies appear.

They all, and including the high possibility of yet another unacceptable election, result in a flawed political settlement. They all leave the crucial reforms necessary to the reformation of the state-regime conflation to some future process. They all lead to political manoeuvring by existing elites and take no cognisance of the mass of the Zimbabwean polity, reduced either to mere voters or passive onlookers.

We submit, as we have done several times before, that the only viable route to a sustainable political settlement will be a National Transitional Authority, underpinned by rigid compliance to constitutionalism, undertaking the critical reforms necessary for the beginning of a transformational process for the country and able to lead the country into an election that all — winners and losers and the international community — will accept as having given a mandate to a political party to govern. The only decision to be made is whether we want a soft landing or not, but, in the end, the crisis in the state will force negotiations for a political settlement and it is hard not to see that this will require some form of transitional arrangement.

Dr Mandaza and Reeler are co-convenors, Platform for Concerned Citizens.

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