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Yes to polls: MDC
The Herald
February 04, 2005

THE MDC yesterday said it would now participate in the March 31 parliamentary elections, backtracking from its earlier statement that it would not take part in any election in the country.

Addressing journalists at Harvest House, the party's head office in Harare, spokesman Mr Paul Themba Nyathi said the MDC national council, its supreme decision-making body, resolved to participate in the forthcoming elections.

The party announced in August last year that it had suspended participation in all elections, claiming that the Government had not fully complied with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.

Mr Nyathi, who was flanked by Harare East legislator Mr Tendai Biti, said the party would go into the general elections under protest. He claimed that the Government had not yet put in place a conducive environment that allows for a free and fair election.

"This is a decision based primarily on the demands of our people, the working people of Zimbabwe, who wish to exercise their hard-fought and inalienable right of voting," said Mr Nyathi.

"The participation is, therefore, a strategic decision to recognise our internal democracy and sanctity of nationhood and the right to vote."

Mr Nyathi made the unfounded claims of violence despite the fact that the party's president, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, recently acknowledged that calls by the Government and police for a peaceful election have been heeded by many people as there is peace in the country ahead of the polls.

In one of his weekly messages last month, Mr Tsvangirai said incidents of political violence were minimal in the run-up to the March elections.

"Through latter-day exhortations to its supporters to display some form of political civility in the run-up to the next election, the regime is at least sending out positive signals to the people. I must recognise and record what appears to be a change of rhythm within the police force, especially the force's public stance towards direct, physical violence," Mr Tsvangirai wrote.

"Although pockets of rogue elements still exist here and there, by and large, we have witnessed a decrease in cases of open violence against political opponents. We are willing to work with the police and Zanu-PF to open up Zimbabwe's political space."

President Mugabe, the Minister of Home Affairs, Cde Kembo Mohadi, and Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri have said there would be zero tolerance to violence and measures would be taken to ensure violence does not mar the elections.

Police have said they would deal with violence whether intra-party or inter-party.

Zanu-PF MPs Kindness Paradza (Makonde) and Phone Madiro (Hurungwe West) have appeared in court charged with public violence following clashes between their supporters and those of their rivals ahead of the ruling party's primary elections, which have since been concluded.

Mr Nyathi said the party felt let down by Sadc, which, he said, had not exerted enough pressure on Zimbabwe to comply with the regional bloc's principles.

Mr Tsvangirai has been on a whirlwind tour of Sadc member states and some Western countries to garner political sympathy ahead of the polls. He has travelled to South Africa, Mauritius, Botswana and Zambia, among other countries.

The MDC leader has also travelled to some European capitals since he got his passport back after his acquittal on treason charges last October.

"We note with regret the failure of Sadc to put the regime on the spot and demanding the reproduction and implementation of fair electoral standards in this country. Zimbabweans feel betrayed and let down by the region," said Mr Nyathi.

However, the Government has since established the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, an independent body to run all elections and referendums in line with the Sadc principles and guidelines, which are just principles and guidelines and not a protocol.

The guidelines are supposed to be implemented in terms of a Sadc member's national laws.

A number of changes in line with the guidelines will also be introduced to the electoral system through the newly codified Electoral Act.

Both Zanu-PF and the MDC participated in debate on the Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act when they were still Bills and passed them after agreeing on a number of amendments.

Mr Nyathi said the MDC national council expressed concern over the alleged violation of the one-man one-vote principle, through "the continued disenfranchisement of Zimbabweans because of their ancestry, place of residence and the flawed voter registration and management regime".

The Government has said Zimbabweans not resident in the country cannot vote because according to the laws of the country, the elections are constituency-based.

Mr Nyathi said the MDC had not been under pressure from anyone to take part in the election.

"We have not been pressured by President Mbeki or anyone to contest these polls. The decision is solely from the MDC."

Following the announcement by the MDC that it had called off its earlier stated boycott of the election, National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman Dr Lovemore Madhuku reiterated that Zanu-PF would overwhelmingly win the March 31 polls because the MDC was a write-off.

Speaking at a seminar under the theme "Intra-Party Democracy in Zimbabwe" last night, Dr Madhuku castigated MDC leaders, whom he said were becoming more and more unreasonable as they mistakenly imagine that they have a monopoly on democracy.

Dr Madhuku said the MDC would win fewer seats than it won in 2000 when it took more than 50 constituencies.

'To us in the NCA, the decision (to participate) is fine, though it is disappointing. But we appreciate the fact that whether the MDC participates in the election or not, the outcome will be the same as Zanu-PF will post a convincing majority.''

The NCA leader said the MDC would be a write-off after the elections since the only hope it had to attain power was to mobilise street protests.

"If MDC leaders fail to do this, then it will be over for them.''

Dr Madhuku repeated his call for civic groups to galvanise and present a united front against Zanu-PF, though he was quick to acknowledge that the NCA does not have the muscle to take on the initiative alone.

His statement was a reaffirmation of the gist of the speech he made during a presentation in Washington last week on Thursday titled "Zimbabwe at a Crossroads" where he told his audience that the MDC was no longer a formidable party.

He told last night's gathering that after the publication of his statement in The Herald yesterday, he received numerous calls from opposition elements who wanted clarification.

"I told them that you cannot know me from The Herald, and I repeat it here the MDC will not win the election in March."

Dr Madhuku said the MDC's decision to contest, just like the earlier boycott announcement, was just an indication of the lack of democracy in the party as the rank and file of the opposition was not consulted.

This is not the first time Dr Madhuku has castigated the MDC. After the ill-fated "final push" in 2003, he took a swipe at MDC leader Mr Tsvangirai on numerous occasions, accusing him of lacking the capacity to unseat the Zanu-PF Government.

His statements were echoed by former Harare South MP Ms Margaret Dongo, who told last night's meeting that what Zimbabwe needs was not the kind of change being advocated by the MDC.

In apparent reference to Mr Tsvangirai, Ms Dongo said: "A person who cannot make a decision is very dangerous, muchenjere kufarira n'anga neinobata mai."

Ms Dongo took a swipe at Mr Raymond Majongwe, who had earlier on referred to the Zanu-PF leadership as terrorists. She reminded him that it was because of "the terrorists", both living and dead, that he was able to attend a seminar "like this one".

Mr Majongwe, who has been booed at previous seminars for his statements, publicly distanced himself from the MDC.

The seminar, which had representatives from the NCA, Zanu-PF and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, was organised by the Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe.

The MDC leadership was not represented, but its district executive members for Harare attended.

Dr William Nhara, who represented Zanu-PF, reminded the opposition groups that "March 31st will be payback time for our democracy".

President Mugabe this week proclaimed March 31 as the day when the elections would be held.

The Nomination Court would sit on February 18 in various centres across the country to accept candidates for the elections.

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