Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s discouraging election scenario

Posted by CM on January 20, 2008

For a country with such great and mounting problems as Zimbabwe, a general election should be an occasion for great excitement. This should be particularly so when the main opposing parties offer such starkly differently views of looking at the origins of the problems, and the solutions, as do ZANU-PF and the MDC.

Yet there seems very little of that sense of excitement about the March general election. There seems less of a general sense of optimism than in recent votes that this election could be a turning point in the country’s continuing plunge in every arena. The blasé attitude seems independent of whether one is supportive of the ruling ZANU-PF or either faction of the MDC. If it is going to be an election that represents a watershed in Zimbabwe’s declining fortunes, I know few people on either side of the political divide who seem to think that this one is it.

A win for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF represents “business as usual,” which more of the hardships and decline of the past several years. Just weeks before the election, neither Mugabe as a presidential candidate nor his party even bother to pretend that there is a credible plan in place to reverse the mess the country is in.

The MDC factions seem at their most indecisive and weakest. Within and between them, ego-politics seems to win over strategy against their common foe, the ruling party. The statements and actions of some of the leading lights of both factions make one wonder whether in power they would really represent a type of politics essentially different from that of ZANU-PF, or whether they would just be a new group of people doing the same things as before.

They send out confusing signals about whether or not they will participate in the election. Saying so does not hide the fact that they are in a no win situation: On the one hand there is no way they will be allowed to come anywhere near winning if they participate, but if they boycott they arguably consign themselves further to the political margins. And the threat of a boycott does not carry the prospect of a lost “moral authority” for a Mugabe and ZANU-PF who no longer care much about such things.

In the case of a Mugabe win in the presidential vote, we would have the situation of a winner who has become such anathema to the global economic and political forces whose relations he needs to reverse the country’s problems that his “win” would constitute a continuing loss for the country. It would represent a Pyrrhic victory in the classic sense: Mugabe would be able to continue his favourite pastime of spitting in the faces of the West, but at the cost of Zimbabwe continuing to be largely an economic no-go area.

The MDC shows all the signs of having accepted that there is not the slightest chance that Tsvangirai could win the presidential election, with the other MDC factional leader Arthur Mutambara’s role in Zimbabwean politics becoming even less clear by the day. ZANU-PF would predictably say this is because of the opposition parties’ many internal problems. The MDC would likely just as predictably say their poor prospects are not because of any lack of popular support, but because of all the many ways the political deck has been stacked against them from day one.

None of the constitutional changes that are being made to ostensibly “level the playing field” can undo an entrenched political culture going back decades. If the incumbent party is inclined to thwart the opposition by hook or crook, the little matter of what the constitution does or does not allow has not proven to be an insurmountable obstacle before.

Working our way to some version of a political system that serves the people’s interests, rather than just those of politicians or political parties, is going to be a long battle. A more just constitution is important, but it cannot be a solution in itself, as some activists would seem to suggest. If anything, Zimbabwe has given an interesting example of how a government can claim to be adhering to much of the letter of democratic or constitutional form while easily corrupting its spirit. So, for instance, the regularity and timeliness of elections are given as proof of democratic credentials over and above whether those elections are conducted cleanly and fairly or not. We have also learnt that inconvenient constitutional clauses can be easily changed on a ruler’s whim.

But beyond all these issues, as a voter I look at the range of politicians parading themselves before us and I am mortified about what the poor choice suggests about our short to medium term future.

Bags of maize doled out to hungry people at election time are a powerful weapon. We have seen evidence of this over several elections now. It has become one way it is possible to “win” the vote of a certain area even when the electorate may have reason to loathe the candidate. This is just the reality when people have been reduced to worrying about day to day survival.

But what does it say about the basic humanity of a candidate who is quite satisfied to “win” an election on these terms? First of all, those voters should not need such small but important material inducements to vote for you if you had done your job well over the 27 years they have known you. Secondly, you say their hardships are because of enemies opposing your efforts to empower those voters. But that after a claimed land revolution those voters should be dependent on food handouts is a damning indictment of the failure of that claimed revolution. If it had been successful, almost 10 years after it began, we should be seeing more people independent of food handouts, not many more dependent on them.

It seems not just cynical in the way most people everywhere generally associate with politicians, but evil to control and sway them by impoverishing them, rather than by being able to convincingly say, “look at how much you are better off today than yesterday as a result of our efforts.”

Looking to the opposition, one hears how incumbent MPs of either MDC faction make escaping having to stand for primary elections a condition for agreeing to support unity talks. Even before they taste any real influence, incumbency has become its own justification for political existence. The verbal recklessness of MDC factional leader Nelson Chamisa threatening violence if the election did not go his faction’s way came off as being little different from the indecorous way we have become accustomed to ruling party officials carelessly spouting off from time to time. This in so small measure has contributed to the country’s international isolation, and one would think it would be in the MDC’s own interests to want to be seen as being different in this regard.

Then there is the quite bizarre speculation about Simba Makoni heading a group said to be splintering off from ZANU-PF, and his contesting as a presidential candidate against Mugabe. “Bizarre” because of the late timing of the said splintering, and because of the lack of confirmation or denial by Makoni of the rumours floating about. The many un-answered questions and Makoni’s seeming tentativeness do not inspire confidence that this is a serious effort.

With the poor choice of politicians of all stripes the country has to contend with, it is not surprising there is little excitement about the impending general election.

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2 Responses to “Zimbabwe’s discouraging election scenario”

  1. […] David Ben-Hame / HIRAM7 REVIEW wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe MDC shows all the signs of having accepted that there is not the slightest chance that Tsvangirai could win the presidential election, with the other MDC factional leader Arthur Mutambara’s role in Zimbabwean politics becoming even … […]

  2. […] CM wrote an interesting post today on Zimbabweâs discouraging election scenarioHere’s a quick excerptFor a country with such great and mounting problems as Zimbabwe, a general election should be an occasion for great excitement. This should be particularly so when the main opposing parties offer such starkly differently views of … […]

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