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Electoral reforms are not a luxury but critical

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“One thing that opposition parties must understand is that continuously bombarding people with messages of Zanu PF rigging and its refusal to implement electoral reforms actually works to the advantage of Zanu PF because it only serves to deflate voters’ spirits…….” Alex Magaisa

Opinion: Vince Musewe

“In a nutshell, the opposition narrative must change from one of hopeless victims to that of hopeful warriors who are determined to succeed against the odds. The narrative must change from that of electoral reforms to that of electoral hope. These are the positive messages that people want to hear. They will boost their confidence and persuade them that this time things could be different,” Alex Magaisa.

The issues raised by Magaisa here certainly need my considered response because I for one truly believe that without fundamental reforms, it is most likely that we shall repeat the history of 2013 where there was a false positive message of hope and bravado all around and yet, for various unanticipated reasons, the opposition dismally lost the elections.

Magaisa himself was embedded within the MDC-T leadership structures then and is, therefore, in a good position to share with us what went wrong.

What has changed since then?

In my opinion, it is evident that Zimbabwean citizens in general have become more aware of their responsibility as a collective and, therefore, and more active. We have seen, for example, the emergence of social movements made up of citizens being a new phenomenon.
In addition, opposition political parties in general, have woken up to the reality that fighting Zanu PF from separate corners has its disadvantages and it is important and likely to be more effective to come together in one form or another to establish a coalition.

Added to this, is the realisation that we all must exercise our right to vote if we are to make the electoral difference which we desire.

For me these are important but not adequate considerations to be able to create the necessary confidence that indeed we can dislodge Zanu PF, especially in an election whose machinery they still control.

That is to say, without us seeking further changes on the electoral architecture and how elections are run and administered in Zimbabwe, I do not think that we can be successful in dislodging a regime which has entrenched its interests for the last 37 years and has unmitigated access to public resources and institutions which have always been and continue to be abused to create an electoral advantage for them.

I, therefore, do not concur with Magaisa’s view which says that some of us in opposition parties must simply preach a positive message of hope despite the urgent need to address the fundamental and rather obvious root causes of the circumstances which we find ourselves in. There is no authenticity in that proposition.

At the risk of repeating what should be common knowledge, the root causes of the lack of electoral integrity and credibility in Zimbabwe are the lack of transparency and biased accountability of those responsible for the administration of elections, namely Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the continued abuse of public resources to the advantage of the incumbent, intimidation and violence against opposition party members buttressed by the police, security sector and intelligence services, lack of media access and freedom of opposition parties to campaign freely especially in rural areas, an entrenched patronage system of Zanu PF within state and public institutions which actively support the incumbent and the lack of robust funding for the political activities of opposition parties.

If acknowledging or creating the necessary awareness among citizens that these challenges need to be addressed as a matter of priority before we can rely on the electoral process is viewed by Magaisa as “continuously bombarding people with messages of Zanu PF rigging and its refusal to implement electoral reforms” then I beg to differ with this paradigm.

In my opinion, potential voters and the international community need to appreciate and grasp the totality of the deliberate and man-made barriers that we face and why these need to be removed first before any election can be deemed to have the necessary credibility and integrity.

Reforms are, therefore, not a luxury which must not to be mentioned lest “we create apathy and dampen spirits”, but are for me a critical and non-negotiable success factor. This of course does not mean we give up and throw our hands up and become “hopeless victims”, but requires that we continue to be creative in coming up with solutions.

Just as Zanu PF rejected to participate in an election administered and controlled by the late former Rhodesia Prime Minister Ian Smith’s partisan institutions, police army and intelligence services so must we reject another fake election administered by President Robert Mugabe’s institutions, police army and intelligence services. This to me is the most difficult and inconvenient truth that we have to accept.

Now does this point to hopeless victimhood? I don’t think so at all. The most dangerous thing we can do is to create false hope in followers by deliberately ignoring or reframing the realities on the ground, lest we make them uncomfortable.

In my opinion, Zimbabweans have two simple choices to make and these choices have their own consequences which we must be willing to accept and endure.

Either to follow those who think that we should participate in elections anyway even without fundamental reforms. Register to vote in numbers and hopefully be able to exercise that vote on voting day in 2018 and then hopefully achieve the results which we desire.

Or insist and do whatever it may take to achieve the necessary electoral reforms first before participating or legitimising a fundamentally flawed electoral process and architecture.

I choose the latter and that, in my view, certainly does not make me a “hopeless victim” of circumstances. With this choice, the debate should then focus on what we need to do as a collective, but also acknowledge that our world and our future does not stop with 2018 elections. In other words it could be a very long struggle but that’s okay.

It was Allan Bloom the American philosopher classicist and academician who once said that “the most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities that makes it inconceivable that other ways are viable that removes the sense that there is an outside”

In my opinion, this quote rings true, especially now. We must believe that there is an outside to the Zanu PF electoral hegemony and we don’t have to participate in elections without reforms in 2018 to please anyone. We must reject to be compromised, to be politically expedient or to be complicit fearing that we may “dampen spirits”.

Aluta continua!

Vince Musewe is an independent economist. You may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

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