EDITORIAL COMMENT: Why is the opposition afraid of elections?

President Mnangagwa

President Mnangagwa

Instead of being commended for calling for elections to be held when they are constitutionally due and so soon after he assumed office, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is being criticised.

In his inauguration speech in November, he said elections would be held this year. When he visited Mozambique last week, he reiterated that position, but was more accurate saying elections would be held within five months.

This week in Davos, Switzerland where he is attending the World Economic Forum, the President again said elections should be staged by July this year.

“In my own view, we want to consolidate and deepen constitutionalism in Zimbabwe, and in terms of our current Constitution, every five years, we are required to submit ourselves, to seek a new mandate,” he said.

“So, the five-year term ends in July. The Constitution allows us to have elections even six months before the last date in July. So, I believe that elections would not be in July, they would be earlier than July.

“. . .  The purpose of elections is to have the electorate to select a team of persons who think they address their challenges and their needs. If we (Zanu-PF) lose elections, that’s it. Whichever party that wins the election will proceed to take the reins of power because they would have appealed to the electorate, perhaps with better policies and so on.”

The President has shown his commitment to constitutionalism by saying that Zimbabweans should be ready to go to the polls by July, only eight months after he took office. If he was selfish and power hungry, he would have used his position as President to have elections deferred so that he and his team could enjoy the comforts that come with the highest office in the land. In our opinion, this is what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo where President Joseph Kabila refused to proclaim elections when they were constitutionally due in December 2016. After ruling out elections in 2016, he first pledged to have them staged in December last year but he postponed them again to 2018. The opposition in that country is up in arms against him for that.
However, it is an irony of ironies that in our country, it is the ruling party that wants elections to be held as the constitution demands while the opposition, who, ordinarily, must be always itching for them to be held so that they can take a chance to win power, don’t want them.

But it is not the first time that the opposition has been forced to obey the law with regard to elections.

They didn’t want elections in 2013 but Zanu-PF under Cde Robert Mugabe wanted them. The MDCs wanted to continue enjoying themselves in the inclusive government, forgetting that democracy bids them to secure the people’s mandate through regular elections. It took a journalist-cum-political-activist Jealousy Mawarire to approach the courts for MDCs to accept elections. Mawarire approached the Constitutional Court seeking an order compelling the then President, Cde Mugabe to proclaim the election date by July 31, 2013. Cde Mugabe had to abide by the court ruling, which, fortunately for him and his party, coincided with what they wanted.

Elections were held and the MDCs lost dismally with Zanu-PF scoring its biggest electoral victory in 33 years – more than two thirds majority in parliament and its presidential candidate winning 61 percent of the vote.

This time again, the opposition are likely to go to the polls reluctantly.

But why are they afraid of elections when they tout themselves as parties of excellence that are sworn to democratic principles?

The answer to this question is as self-evident as the fact that the opposition will lose and Zanu-PF will win this year’s elections.

The main opposition, MDC-T, is at its weakest point. Effectively the party is leaderless with its president, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai unwell. This has triggered a vicious succession war that has torn the party apart and might lead to yet another split.

Furthermore, his efforts to forge an alliance with his opposition colleagues are unravelling.

We remember that MDCs went to the 2013 elections with little donor support as its foreign benefactors were unhappy with apparent abuse of their resources and lack of direction and held back any funding. Nothing has changed. The opposition is deep in financial troubles and is definitely not in a position to bankroll a successful campaign for a national election. Thus to them, an election is an inconvenience that can be deferred if one decides yet an election is a constitutional matter, the foundation of any democracy.

To compound the MDC-T’s troubles, Zanu-PF settled its succession puzzle with President Mnangagwa coming in. Undoubtedly, the ruling party is on the ascendency with the new leader in office. He has come up with measures to revive the economy and end the country’s international isolation. For many years, the opposition has called for European Union and American observers to witness our elections. Cde Mugabe always rejected the demand, but President Mnangagwa has said they can come. He has committed himself to free, fair, credible, violence-free elections.

The opposition cannot be any weaker than it is now and they know it. They know they can’t win an election; hence they are coming up with pretexts such as to demand “electoral reforms” in a bid to get elections moved. They appear to want to buy time so that they can settle their succession fight, secure foreign funding and get themselves more united, but they must appreciate that the constitution binds everyone, including the President, to go for elections by July.