Election 2005 - To boycott or not, confusion continues

The Movement for Democratic Change is preparing for next year's elections though it is still unclear whether it will participate or not. But time is running out fast for both the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC as each is refusing to budge from its present position.

ZANU-PF insists that the elections will not be rescheduled. They will be held in March to enable the country to mark its silver jubilee after having defeated "British Prime Minister Tony Blair".

The MDC insists it will not participate in a sham. The government has to level the playing field and abide by the principles and guidelines set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August.

Voters and political observers are in a quandary. If the MDC, the strongest opposition party Zimbabwe has ever had, boycotts the elections it will sink into political oblivion. If it participates, it will legitimise the ZANU-PF government which has already rigged its way into power because of several advantages of incumbency that it has.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was acquitted of treason charges, last month but still faces other treason charges, has been on a whirlwind regional tour to persuade key leaders to put pressure on President Robert Mugabe to abide by the SADC principles and guidelines which would usher free and fair elections.

He had talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki who was tasked by the West to find a solution to Zimbabwe's crisis and Paul Berenger of Mauritius, current chairman of the SADC.

"The various meetings that took place provided an opportunity to explain the situation in Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai said in a statement from Johannesburg. "We explained how the dynamics that currently exist on the ground, vis-à-vis the political environment, are woefully inconsistent with the standards expected under the SADC protocol on principles and guidelines governing democratic elections."

"We explained how Zimbabwe's democratic deficit continues to widen at an alarming rate, making a free and fair election impossible under the current circumstance," Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai said the prominent deficits were the absence of the rule of law, political violence, repressive legislation that curtailed basic civil and political liberties and an inaccurate voters' roll.

These anomalies could not be tackled immediately prior to the elections. They had to be addressed at least six months or more before an election to restore public confidence and legitimacy in the electoral process.

He said though the MDC had resolved on August 25 to boycott all elections until the government levelled the playing field, his party was still hopeful that the government could be persuaded to implement political and electoral reforms that would enable it to participate in next year's elections.

"That is why we are continuing to prepare for the elections. We look forward to fighting in a free and fair election on issues of the day - food and jobs," he said. "These are the issues that really matter to Zimbabweans."

Though the decision to boycott elections was reached by the party's national executive, the majority of the party's supporters are against it because they feel the party is playing a crucial role in keeping ZANU-PF on its toes. They also argue that electoral reform is a process.

"We support a total boycott because participating in any elections when the playing field is not level is legitimising the ZANU-PF government," Reggie Moyo, regional chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly in Matabeleland said.

"You cannot have free and fair elections while AIIPA (The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and POSA (Public Order and Security Act) are in place because the opposition cannot campaign effectively," Reggie said.

He said if there was a total boycott and ZANU-PF won all parliamentary seats, this would send a clear message that it was imposing itself on the people, especially if the opposition parties campaigned and held rallies that were attended by thousands of people prior to the polls because this would show that they had support of the people.

Asked what would happen if there was no total boycott as some of the smaller opposition parties could take advantage of the absence of the MDC, Reggie said, right now, the MDC was the only opposition party that counted.

"In fact, it goes even beyond that. Our elections are between two personalities. Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Period. You can put any other person in their place but it will not be the same.

"This is the problem in Zimbabwe. We probably inherited it from the past, from the days of the liberation struggle. You could not talk about ZAPU without Nkomo, the Rhodesian Front without Ian Smith. Even today you cannot talk about ZANU-PF without Mugabe or the MDC without Tsvangirai. It is not about democracy per se but about personalities."

Reggie said the major problem at the moment was that various actors tended to divide their energies.

"We should all be fighting AIPPA and POSA before we start fighting for electoral reform. But of course, I understand why the MDC is concentrating on electoral reforms.

"The aim of any political party is to get to power, but how they will rule after that is anybody's guess. Political parties should therefore not be at the forefront of constitutional reform because they will always craft something that will be in their favour," he said.

Asked why the MDC should prepare for elections when they were going to boycott them Reggie said, there was nothing wrong with preparing.

"It's just like a football team," he said. "They may not be happy with the venue or the referee but they have to prepare for the match and then only protest before the match that they cannot play because of one, two, three.

"That is the same with the MDC, they should prepare for the elections. After all, who knows, ZANU-PF could suddenly succumb to pressure and level the playing field. The MDC should be ready."

Gorden Moyo, executive director of Bulawayo Agenda said the MDC should gear themselves to participate in the elections because without participating they would sink into political oblivion.

He said the acquittal of Tsvangirai on treason charges had been a diplomatic coup for the government because the MDC "boycott gospel (was) no longer sellable to the SADC region".

"It is not so much an issue of neutrality or impartiality of our judiciary system but rather a political goal by ZANU-PF in the 2005 elections in the eyes of the SADC," Gorden said.

He said ZANU-PF's strategy for next year's elections was a mixture of the "carrot and stick" approach. The ruling party was a master of deception "shouting hosanna to the legal system" during the day and "crucify him on the electoral field" during the night.

Gorden said this strategy had rendered the MDC's boycott call unsellable to the region but at the same time it had paved way for the government media, youth brigades, state security agents and the ZANU-PF machinery to continue to shrink political space.

"The best approach for the MDC is to declare in no uncertain terms that whatever tricks may be employed by the ruling party, they are only going to participate if AIPPA and POSA and other conditions have been eased," Gorden said.

Observers, however, say while there was all round jubilation after the acquittal of Tsvangirai, things were not as simple as they looked. His top lieutenants as well as main backers from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions had already written him off and found a replacement because they did not believe he would be acquitted.

Their biggest dilemma, as Reggie said, was that they had to undo everything because, though it would have been quite easy to replace Tsvangirai if he had been jailed, it is almost impossible to do so now because his name is synonymous with the MDC.

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