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Elections — options, alternatives

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Zimbabwe is in a continual state of
déjà vu as we seem to be moving in circles in as far as the political logjam is concerned, what with the hullaballoo about elections and in the midst of that the disappearance of the constitution reform agenda from the political topography of the nation.

The season demands and requires leaders who will look beyond narrow sectarian, personal and party interests and put the country first.

We should not allow our judgment to be eclipsed by the here and now, especially the hype about elections, which usually culminates in us, sacrificing our values, vision, priorities and intimately inter-woven with this, the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

I consistently maintain the Global Political Agreement with its numerous flaws offers a reasonable roadmap for the country for at least the next three to four years of transition, which I believe we needed for constitutional, legislative and institutional reform, national healing, economic stability and growth.

There is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness about the inevitability of elections albeit in an overtly unfair and uneven political playing field epitomised by growing political tension, the arrest of journalists, an incomplete constitutional reform process and the proposed draconian legislation limiting public access to critical information.

In the midst of this I would like to explore several options that could be considered by progressive Zimbabweans.

They are not exhaustive or conclusive but are an invitation to a conversation about our nation offering a framework of alternative pro-active action.

Come let us reason and think about these issues.

Who says everybody has to dance to the tune of one person and one party by blindly participating in elections.

One option would be to take the initiative from President Robert Mugabe by boycotting elections unless minimal demands are met.

This would have the effect of isolating Zanu PF and its leader and highlighting the gravity of the political crisis to the international community.

It would also delegitimise whatever government comes into place. Hopefully this stance would force Sadc to intervene before such an election.

However a poll boycott does have its downside. First of all, President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF could simply ignore the boycott and continue with business as usual as they did in the inconsequential one man 2008 presidential run-off elections.

The action would only embarrass Sadc and President Mugabe but we all know that embarrassment may not be enough to stop Zanu PF as they have become insulated to it. Furthermore a boycott could take us back by another 10 years as the next election would be in another five years.

Zanu PF would be unopposed and there would be no alternative representation. The gains made in the post-2008 period would be reversed in one fell swoop as a partisan Parliament would pass more repressive legislation. Investor confidence (what is left of it) will dwindle and there could be scaling up of “measures and sanctions”.

The Chiadzwa diamonds could come in handy in propping up the regime although a ban of exports of the mineral is likely to be intensified.

In the interest of the nation a poll boycott would mean a lot of pain for the people of Zimbabwe in the short-to-medium term.

The objective of such an action would be to force the Sadc, African Union and the international community to push for comprehensive political and economic reforms.

The poll boycott strategy would only work if understood in the context of strategic action and as a means to an end not an end itself. This option is thus possible but ineffective but would work as an act of political “melodrama” to gain leverage to negotiate for an even playing field.

At best it would work as a threat and not something to actually be done. The opposition should count the cost before it engages in this act which could either be a sacrifice resulting in long-term gain but conversely could be a form of advanced political suicide if not done properly.

There is a school of thought especially in sections of civil society that elections should be held only if certain minimum demands are met.

Such minimum demands are limited to election-related issues such as the immediate political environment, targeted legislative reform, regional and international election observers and provision of constitutional mechanisms for transfer of power.

This approach seems to be the most realistic but is based on a set of assumptions. The most important assumption is these minimalist demands will be met. I seriously doubt Zanu PF will agree to international observers as this will play into “the West is interfering propaganda”.

Peripheral and window-dressing reform will be made as is the case already with proposals that election results be announced within reasonable time.

In countries such as Kenya and Tanzania incumbents have used this to claim early victories and have quickly sworn themselves into office.

The only sure way of wresting power from the incumbent in an election under the current conditions is for opposition parties to form a sort of rainbow coalition.

They may not want to be called opposition parties but the reality is that in terms of power they are an opposition and Zanu PF for now is controlling the unity government.

My argument is these parties have to agree on an electoral pact under which they would back one candidate in the presidential elections. T

he only three things that stand in the way of such an arrangement are namely: inflated egos, insatiable political appetites and ideological differences.

It is pertinent and imperative for the leaders of MDC-T, MDC-M, Zapu, Mavambo and other progressive forces to come together and form a loose coalition within the framework of an electoral pact which would enshrine a formula for fielding candidates in various constituencies and, importantly, one candidate for the presidential elections.

Opposition party leaders should put aside their differences and put the national interest above partisan interests.

Our leaders will have to put aside their political egos and immediately start working towards such a pact as a matter of the first capital urgency instead of wasting time castigating each other and grandstanding.

The combined political weight of Tsvangirai/Tendai Biti, Arthur Mutambara/Welshman Ncube, Dumiso Dabengwa and Simba Makoni will literally decimate Zanu PF in any election even if it were to resort to violence.

These leaders should realise the importance of running together not against each other in this important national race where the biggest winners will be the Zimbabwean people. In the 2008 presidential race Tsvangirai’s garnered 1 1079 730 (47,9%) of the votes against Mugabe’s 1 079 730 (43,2%) with Simba Makoni (backed by MDC–M) garnering 207 470 votes around (8,3%).

Simple arithmetic then infers if the two MDCs and Mavambo had backed one candidate, in that case Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s political history and indeed future would have been different.

Obviously these parties and their leaders differ on ideological grounds but when a house is on fire the identity, religion and political opinion of those trying to put out the fire ceases to be important.

Dumisani O Nkomo is chief executive officer and spokesperson of the Matabeleland civil society consortium –Habakkuk Trust. He writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on dumisani.nkomo@gmail.com

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