Zimbabwean political parties should form an alliance to defeat tyranny

ZIMBABABWE is in a continual state of flux as we seem to be moving in circles as far as the political logjam is concerned – what with the latest SADC debacle, the hullaballoo about elections and the disappearance of the constitutional reform agenda from the political topography of the nation.

I would like to suggest that 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 the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA), with its numerous flaws, offers a reasonable roadmap for the country for at least the next three to four years, and which we need for constitutional, legislative and institutional reform, national healing, economic stability and growth.

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

I would like to explore several options that could be considered by progressive Zimbabweans. They are an invitation to a conversation about our nation.

A poll boycott

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 isolate Zanu-PF and its leader and highlight 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 Mugabe and Zanu-PF could simply ignore the boycott and continue with business as usual as they did in 2008. But we all know that embarrassment may not be enough to stop Zanu-PF. Furthermore, a boycott could take us back by another 10 years as the next election would be in another five years.

The gains made since 2008 would be reversed as a partisan parliament would pass more repressive legislation. Investor confidence [what’s left of it] would 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 gems is likely to be intensified. In the interests of the nation, a poll boycott would mean a lot of pain for Zimbabweans 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 election boycott strategy would only work if understood in the context of strategic action and as a means to an end not an end itself. At best it would work as a threat and not something to be actually done. The opposition should count the cost before it engages in this act.

Minimalist approach

There is a school of thought that elections should be held only if certain minimum demands are met, 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 being that these minimalist demands will be met. I seriously doubt that Zanu-PF will agree to international observers as this will play into "the West is interfering propaganda".

Rainbow alliance and minimum demands

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.

These parties have to agree on an electoral pact under which they would back one candidate in the presidential elections. The only three things that stand in the way of such an arrangement are: inflated egos, insatiable political appetites and ideological differences.

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

Opposition party leaders should put the national interest above partisan interests and political libidos. An analysis of political behaviour in the last ten years shows that though this is the most desirable scenario, "our winner take all, nation gains nothing" attitude may be our biggest enemy. The two MDC factions were on the verge of an agreement in the run-up to the 2008 elections but, alas, expediency prevailed and they campaigned against each other.

Realistically though some opposition parties do not seem to add any value to the electoral and democratic experience as displayed by some of the 13 parties that contested in the 2008 elections.

Alliances with parties such as Moreprecision and the Zimbabwe Youth in Alliance, which garnered 70 votes between them, would not be politically cost-effective, but the strength of Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu and the key role it could play in the transfer of power equation cannot be ignored. Nor can the value of the political talent of the MDC-M and the mass appeal of the MDC-T, or the charisma of Morgan Tsvangirai and the intelligence of Simba Makoni, be ignored.

The combined political weight of Tsvangirai /Tendai Biti, Arthur Mutambara/Welshman Ncube, Dabengwa and Makoni will decimate Zanu-PF in any election.

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.

This alliance should then demand that elections be held in conformity with the SADC Guidelines and Principles on the Conduct of Democratic Elections which espouse the creation of a level electoral playing field.

Observers from SADC and other regions should be in the country at least 90 days before election day so that they can monitor the pre- election environment which is usually fraught with violence. The voters’ roll needs to be updated and accessible, the state media accessible to all political parties and repressive legislation reviewed.

The best option

The best route remains the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement with emphasis on constitutional and institutional reform, national healing and economic stability and growth. Elections for now are a short cut and could be a short cut to nowhere. We need to script a new framework that provides for democratisation of state institutions and processes as well as a conducive environment for investment and growth.

Nkomo is CEO and spokesman of the Matabeleland Civil Society Consortium – Habakkuk Trust. He writes in his personal capacity. This article was first published in the Times Live