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Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 99
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
January 23, 2013

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Political Reform and the Challenge for Democratization Post 2012

There is a danger that the concerted social commentary on the internal political dynamics of the Inclusive Government and the stalled reform agenda without regard for broader democratization issues may miss the most critical factor this critical process is faced with a transition to democracy rather than minimal political reform that the contemporary process of pacting may produce. The Inclusive Government lately believed to be a temporal transition mechanism following the violent 2008 plebiscite whose outcome was disputed by both the losing incumbent regime and its opposition will enter its fifth year. By any measure, ZANU PF has successfully imposed itself on the people of Zimbabwe by illegitimately engineering another term of office in spite of losing the 2008 elections. The former opposition, now partners in the Inclusive Government and winners of the same disputed elections have stuck with the same government at high costs to the democratization agenda. Given that the next elections outside the 1980 plebiscite, whenever they happen, would be historically a defining moment and will have drastic implications for democratization and the fate of the reform agenda, what could be the fate of politics of reform and how will such politics impact on democratization?

Even the greatest of optimists will admit to the fact that the reform movement constituted by the MDC parties and civil society is at its weakest. While this does not mean that ZANU PF is stronger, it is evident that the split of the MDC parties and the continuous disintegration of the coalition of forces that constituted the party's social base at its formation have eroded. Yet a broad based reform coalition that would increase opportunities for regime change and possibly foster politics of participation, negotiation and consensus building over coercive violence seems to be elusive.

There is need for politics that puts human interest, the liberation and freedom of the person at the heart of its agenda. Such politics should fundamentally rest on the important notion of the sovereignty of the people as opposed to party or elite domination. In spite of any level of political support that each of the political parties could enjoy and the parties' subsequent dominance of the electoral scene, the future of democracy beyond the next elections, the protection of political-civil liberties and socio-economic rights will depend on democratic institutions and civil society strategies, choices and the ability to move towards inclusive politics. While the convergence of reformers on the basis of an agenda for democratization would be critical in ending the ZANU PF hegemony, it is its impact and future role in deepening democracy that should get every Zimbabwean to call for a broad based reform coalition. It is important to realise that political parties and political actors are driven by a desire for political power to gain sole control of the state. Each political party and their leaders are behaving on an instinct and gut driven calculus to win the next elections, control the state and solely determine the future of the country without necessarily being strategic and critical in consideration of the long term possibilities for democracy. The characteristic pedestrian optimism amongst actors within the reform movement explains reformers' uncritical resort to knee- jerk, short term rushed interventions whose failures has prolonged the struggle for democracy. Shockingly by sticking with an oppressive highly centralized political system based on ethnic patronage advocates of reform are replicating the exclusive subtleties as systematically instrumentalized by ZANU PF, thus further reinforcing the same practices of a system they seek to overthrow.

While this has clearly failed our country, it is surprising that reformers do not find the roots of the contemporary democratic deficiencies in the failure to foster broad based politics, instead preferring to subject our country to the benevolence and assumed wisdom of former and future individual leaders. This is a political cultural problem rooted in both colonial oppression, post-independence big-man godfather politics which hinges on a superiority-complex tied to notions of infallibility of liberation leaders, buttressed by monolithic party domination, class and ethnicity. Subsequently we are trapped in the narrow politics of god-fatherism which blinds our social commentaries from exploring the national question from the perspectives of the national interest above the whims of key patrons at various levels of our national political system.

Thus without radically revamping the political system, assuming there is any reform, Zimbabwe will be faced with minimal change that may foster stability at the expense of democracy. Political parties may redraw the electoral framework without necessarily democratizing the political system in order to buy domestic and international legitimacy. Any post GPA politics that does not seek to build broad based consensus underlined by strong formal institutions of governance beyond the hegemonic ethnic based elite alliance that has been the basis of the ZANU-ZAPU Unity Government since 1987 which remains at the centre of our political-structural model will be futile. By seemingly framing political leadership within the framework of ethnic balancing, other political parties seem to have embraced this same nuanced subtle authoritarianism instead of articulating broad based democratic politics.

The calls for elections within the context of the emerging consensus for minimal reforms under the GPA framework should therefore been seen in the context of a foundational positive step upon which civil society and political parties should seek to bolster a democracy that goes beyond ritual electoralism. The dragging contestation over the stalling Inclusive Government failing to agree on a set of reforms including the content and process for a new constitution, the national referendum and dates for new elections are simply located on the desire by political actors to retain forth and electoral advantage over opening our society.

We hope that civil society, community actors and political parties will seek to drive broad based politics founded on an agenda to deepen democracy beyond the emerging minimalist consensus. Zimbabweans may not forgive some of our leaders if they lose them this opportunity for a new beginning. Thus possibilities for electoral coalition should be explored to their bitter end not only for the purposes of electoral advantage, but for the prospects they provide for the people to collectively contribute to their society committing their social and economic capital to the leadership, service and development of the country, thus laying the basis for an inclusive and sustainable democratic dispensation.

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