Friday, we ran a story in which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) said the country was not ready for elections, citing a plethora of reasons.
This comes about a month after we ran another story in which Zimbabwe’s largest political parties in terms of membership – Zanu PF and MDC-T – openly declared their anxiety for early elections.
The two parties claimed fresh elections, as early as next year, would resolve the outstanding issue of which political party ultimately has the people’s mandate to govern.
Zanu PF leader, President Robert Mugabe, is reported to have described his party’s relationship with MDC-T in the government of national unity (GNU) as that of “water and fire”, which cannot co-exist.
MDC-T on the other hand, believes fresh elections would catapult it into power, and won’t entertain an over-extended GNU lifespan.
Minority MDC, led by robotics professor Arthur Mutambara, is on record as having strong sentiments against early elections.
The party justifies its position by pointing out unresolved issues of national healing and the uneven political terrain.
The generality of the Zimbabwean citizenry doesn’t want to hear of anything that takes them back to the “bad old days,” fraught with inter-party clashes, political violence and general despondency.
A fresh election is widely seen as signifying a return to that era for several reasons. Firstly, the politicisation of the army and the police is work in progress, as there are still reports that military bases in the country are yet to be dismantled in some outlying areas of the country.
Putting all these views on a scale, what then should be the best way forward for the country regarding elections?
Should the GNU be given a 5-year mandate for Zimbabweans to heal from the horrors of their previous electoral experience and to buy time for Zec to build capacity to fund the next poll, while the Home Affairs ministry is putting the voters’ roll in order?
Or should the elections be held simply because the main contenders say they are ready?
To answer both questions, one would need to probe further and ask the question: Is a general election a show for political parties or is it intended for the benefit of the people?
If it is for political parties, then the country should go for elections as early as possible, to give the stealthily feuding parties a chance to fight it out one more time and settle their political scores.
Whether this will be for the benefit or to the detriment of the country is a matter of opinion.
But if it is for the people of Zimbabwe, then the wish of the people should prevail. When all is said and done no one has the right to think out things for the people.
It therefore follows that a process of engagement such as a referendum should be instituted to find out when the people want elections held.
There is some merit in incorporating this question in the referendum for the new constitution currently being developed, so that the nation decides on both the adoption of the new constitution and the date for the next general election.