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election puts Zim at crossroads
December 10, 2004
WITH the 2004
Zanu PF congress behind us, the ruling party will soon be launching
its election campaign. Of course, it has been in election mode since
the 2003 congress. What more can be concluded from such initiatives
as their anti-corruption drive, the monetary policy renewal and
their most recent stunt — a female vice-president?
In the meantime,
newspaper reports indicate that the MDC is considering re-engaging
in the upcoming general election after all. This possibility has
generated a great deal of controversy among Zimbabweans, particularly
those in the pro-democracy movement. Some people may argue that
Zimbabwe needs to simply get through these next elections and leave
politics behind, so that the country can get on with the more important
bread and butter issues which desperately need to be addressed.
However, politics is the process which decides who gets how much
To say that
politics is irrelevant is to concede to the status quo, and accept
a country that is run by the few at the expense of the many. To
engage in politics is the only way we can ensure that, eventually,
resources, development and services are put into the hands of the
many, and managed with the needs of Zimbabwe at heart.
With this in
mind, it is interesting to view the 2005 election as a unique opportunity
to move Zimbabwe towards people’s politics, and by so doing to try
and limit the increasingly repressive rule that Zanu PF seeks to
have suggested that, given the superficial electoral reforms the
government is agreeing to, and the pressure on Zimbabwe from the
international community, the elections could be "fair enough"
and should therefore be accepted. But this position suggests a slipping
standard when it comes to Zimbabwe, and can easily be interpreted
as saying that Zimbabwe is "just another African country",
where things like human rights and democratic elections are not
to be expected, much less fought for.
In a perfect
world, one could expect the ruling party to implement the Sadc guidelines,
in spirit and letter, in advance of the March election. To do so
it would work with the MDC and civil society to develop reforms
to the election process, repealing such laws as the Public Order
and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act (Aippa), the Broadcasting Services Act and the looming
NGO Bill; disbanding the youth militia, depoliticising the defence
forces, opening up food distribution channels, desisting from messages
of hate in their rallies and state media, and opening up the state
press and airwaves to all political persuasions.
are the least that could be expected of a rational, democratic party
with an interest in democracy and freely contested elections.
however, Zanu PF has proven itself time and again to be the party
of an intolerant, repressive despot with no interest in the rights
and freedoms of Zimbabweans, and no regard for the niceties of international
have argued that the MDC must contest the forthcoming elections,
no matter how unfree or unfair they might be. The argument is that
if the MDC does not contest, it will become marginalised in the
political process. But, in parliament as it is currently constructed,
the MDC is unable to be an active, effective opposition to the ruling
I have no desire
to undermine the many important strides the MDC has made through
its presence in parliament. They have debated boldly, tirelessly,
passionately and at length against the repressive legislation, which
has been brought forward by the ruling party. And their record in
the Hansard definitely proves them to be the more committed, more
dedicated and more articulate party. But the fact remains, despite
the MDC’s earnest eloquence, repressive legislation has been railroaded
through the House and fast-tracked into law time and again. What
the MDC has been able to do, with its more than 50 seats, is to
ensure that Zanu PF does not have the two-thirds majority it would
require to amend the Constitution. In the upcoming elections, while
Zanu PF might give the MDC some few seats to ensure a token "opposition",
they most certainly will stop well short of the critical number
This means that
the ruling party will be able to railroad not only its legislation,
but its constitutional reforms. And the MDC may protest vigorously,
but it will not have sufficient votes to stop this. If anything,
the MDC’s presence in parliament will only serve to legitimate the
ruling party’s actions. Zanu PF will be able to demonstrate to any
would-be critics that Zimbabwe is indeed a multi-party democracy.
And the MDC’s marginalised presence in parliament will only legitimate
this illegitimate regime. So, to urge the MDC to contest in the
2005 general election is to deny the fact that parliament is not
an august House, but is merely providing the veneer of democracy,
with none of the substance.
is that the MDC must contest, or risk irrelevancy. But this shortsighted
position ignores the opportunities available to the MDC by not contesting
the election. If the MDC is able to maintain its daring and principled
stance to not participate in the forthcoming election, it will deprive
Zanu PF of the legitimacy it so desperately needs from these elections.
so doing the MDC would create for itself a unique opportunity to
be reconstituted as a vibrant, active opposition movement that is
not constrained by the diplomatic requirements implied by its participation
in flagrantly flawed institutions such as parliament.
Thus, to urge
the MDC to contest in a rigged election for a sham parliament because
if it does not it might become irrelevant is dangerous and mischievous.
have been suggestions that the MDC should contest because the international
community will turn out to witness and observe the elections. And
if elections are boycotted or not held, the international community
would lack the will or the means to formulate and implement a more
comprehensive and forceful strategy to respond to this. But this
position is myopic and defeatist. It urges the international community
to legitimise what is guaranteed to be a flawed election, and does
not challenge them at all to take a bold stand against this rigged
It also assumes
that the international community will be allowed to freely observe
the elections, even though recent statements by the regime suggest
that they will not be allowed into the country, much less permitted
to observe elections in a comprehensive or independent manner.
And, of course,
even if they were allowed into the country, there is no guarantee
that the reports of international observers would be heeded. The
region and the international community have proven themselves time
and again to be either unwilling or unable to hold Mugabe to any
standard other than his own.
The Mugabe regime
has similarly demonstrated repeatedly that it has no interest in
election reform, democratic reform, or any observation of the rule
of law, no matter who is making the recommendations or pushing for
The 2005 general
election do indeed present a crossroads for Zimbabwe.
But to take
full advantage of the opportunities presented by the elections,
we must all expand our vision of what is possible in our environment.
With the New Year around the corner, we can each make resolutions
which will determine the next phase of our future.
community can at least agree that illegitimate elections yield illegitimate
governments, and refuse to acknowledge the results of any election
that is not held according to the Sadc standards which the government
of Zimbabwe signed onto in August this year. Or, the MDC can contest,
NGOs can fold quietly in the face of the NGO Bill, individuals can
throw their votes away in a rigged election, and the international
community can continue to act a toothless bulldog with a bark much
louder than its bite.
first scenario doesn’t sound any more realistic than some analysts’
suggestions that the elections might just be "fair enough",
and the token seats won by the MDC will be enough to secure a foothold
in the process of democratic reform.
But if the choice
is between finding new ways, new creativity, new inspiration and
new energy for the democratic struggle, or stagnating quietly and
suffocating in the status quo, I certainly know where I stand. Do
is a Harare-based activist.
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