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Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Amanda Atwood
February 06, 2007

When I first heard that Zanu PF was trying to bulldoze through its plan to synchronise the Parliamentary and Presidential elections, my heart sank. This Is It, I thought, the guaranteed extension of another two years of Zanu PF government, with the injustice, economic decline and social collapse that go along with that.

But when I thought about it a bit more, I knew that I wasn't really all that surprised. If Zanu PF can make it easier for themselves to stay in power, of course they'll do that. And if they can combine elections to rig two boxes with one voters roll, of course they'll do that as well.

More importantly, however, I realised that when the elections are is much less important than whether the MDC, and civil society, and normal ordinary every day people, are ready and willing and motivated enough to do something different. Whether we are prepared to break out of the "politics as usual" mindset that sees us acting just the way the regime expects us to act, and to instead catch the state off guard, and make it dance to our tune for a change.

So then I started to get a bit excited again like maybe in a strange way the delayed election would inspire people to take a new perspective on resistance and find new ways of organising.

Thus, when I heard that the MDC and others were building their campaigns around the demand for elections in 2008, some of that dismay returned. Because as optimistic and excitable and positive as I might be, I know in my heart of hearts that the ruling party has no interest in real elections that could make a real change. If it agrees to elections in 2008, it will do so knowing that it can rig them. Maybe I'm too cynical here, but why would they agree to a new Constitution now? What bargaining power do the people really have? Where is our credible threat that convinces them they must listen to us and which drags them, kicking and screaming to the negotiations table, or at least out of office?

Which leaves me thinking that a) demands for elections under a new Constitution are unrealistic, and b) demands for elections without a new Constitution (and without the repeal of unjust laws like POSA, AIPPA and the Broadcasting Services Act, all of which make genuinely free and fair elections an impossibility) are useless, because there is no point contesting yet another election if we know it will be rigged.

Now this is one of those times when I would welcome nothing more than being wrong.

I would be over the moon if the current stay aways of doctors, nurses, teachers, lecturers, students, and so forth brought the economy to a standstill and forced Robert Mugabe to reconsider things just as strikes recently forced Guinean President Lansana Coté to make concessions.

I would be ecstatic if the current economic crisis wrecked the same havoc on Zanu PF chefdom as it does in the homes of the rest of Zimbabweans, and forced the ruling party to open up its eyes and make a change.

I would dance with joy if demonstrations by the MDC, NCA, WOZA, and pro-democracy activists across the country made this regime tremble in submission.

Politics is full of surprises. But in the meantime, we need to get prepared to be disappointed, not just surprised. Zanu PF has no interest in implementing a genuinely people-driven Constitution. It currently has the legislative majority it requires to make whatever constitutional amendments it wants, and it knows that making any significant changes in the political playing field in terms of reducing repression would work against it.

It doesn't matter if the next election is in 2008 or 2010. An election in the current environment and given the present electoral conditions cannot yield any positive result for the Zimbabwean people. Given that it is highly unlikely that these conditions will change, the pro-democracy movement needs to take a stand against vote rigging, and boycott future undemocratic elections. Failure to do so will make them merely more complicit in the repression of all Zimbabweans. Contesting in a flawed election process just legitimates the process. But our oppressor cannot oppress us if we refuse to play his game.

We need to start thinking now about what this stand against elections will look like. We need to find alternatives that proactively and creatively engage people without legitimising the oppressor's illegitimate elections. A parallel process such as an independent referendum by pro-democracy organisations, a spoil the ballot campaign, or even a boycott of the election, will be essential.

Discussing these alternatives should not be seen as disloyal, pessimistic or as a vote of no-confidence in the MDC and civil society. Rather, they are an integral part of the strategy for bringing democracy to Zimbabwe. Initiatives to creatively envision these plans should be welcomed for their frank understanding of the uncertainties of political change. Developing these strategies now and doing the groundwork that they require will be essential to their success, and to the future of a truly free Zimbabwe.

*Amanda invites comments, discussion and disagreement at

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