In Zimbabwe the proliferation of political players is often met with deep suspicion by the two main political protagonists (MDC-T and Zanu PF). New political parties face the dubious honour of being called agents of either of the major parties. Many people, especially the MDC-T supporters find the proliferation of political parties as threatening the party’s chances of toppling the political scandal that is Zanu PF thereby scuppering the opportunity for democracy in Zimbabwe.
Understandably, many in the MDC-T fear vote splitting that is why the different formations of the MDC are continually encouraged to rejoin the main faction. Why is the MDC-T thinking it, perhaps more than Zanu PF, is more susceptible to voter loss that may result from the proliferation of political parties? In any case how valid is the argument that these new political parties draw their support from the existing ones? If indeed they are drawing their support from the main players should they be blamed for providing an alternative?
First, let us put to bed the generalisation that the MDC-T is a democratic organisation and the only saviour for Zimbabwean politics and citizens of that country hence the perception that the party has the exclusive right to be the next government. There is no denying the MDC-T is the largest opposition party however, there is no objective reason to suggest that there is democracy within the MDC-T itself. There has not been any significant leadership change since the inception of the party in 1999.
The only significant change has been the split of the organisation into three independent groups. Major political decisions have been made with little or no public consultation: take the somewhat farcical withdrawal from the 2008 presidential runoff election at the last minute and the decision to join Zanu PF in a power sharing government as examples. The MDC-T is more concerned about Zanu PF and power than democracy, the electorate want true democracy.
If MDC-T and Zanu PF fear losing some support to smaller parties then it means they now realise people are not fools anymore. The main political parties do not represent the conscience of the public; faith in politics and politicians has been lost. It has to be noted that while the number of political players has been increasing the number of genuine voters, which is excluding ‘ghosts who often vote for Zanu PF’, has been decreasing.
If the MDC-T were a formidable opposition Zanu PF should by now not nearing 40 percent of votes cast in any election. The MDC-T has failed to convince the general public and the international community that it is a viable alternative. Politics should be made relevant to the people.
It is perhaps time to look at the electoral system and ask if outcomes are representative of the electorate’s wishes. The plurality voting/ first past the post vote while simpler and cheaper to run does not give the electorate a greater choice of selection and is open to vote splitting and strategic voting. I believe the country should be looking into other voting systems, for example the instant runoff vote (IRV) or the single transferable vote (STV). These systems may be complicated and time consuming but they are certainly not beyond comprehension, they are in use, at varying degrees, across the world. IRV and STV systems have proven to be the closest to fairness that elections can be, more so they eliminate the vote splitting effect caused by the existence of identical parties.
In conclusion, the emergence of political parties in Zimbabwe is a reflection of an indepth lack of faith in the major political parties. Certain regions and socioeconomic groups do not feel represented in the current political dispensation. The rising number of political parties can be good for the politics of Zimbabwe as it may deny the major parties of outright victories and enforce coalition governments that probable represent the interests of a wider constituency. The MDC-T has failed to go beyond telling people the obvious brutality of Zanu PF and offer genuine democratic alternatives to think about. The electoral system adopted by Zimbabwe at independence is now arguably a political dinosaur which perhaps is more responsible for Zanu PF’s continued existence in power; the first past the post voting system predisposes parties like the MDC-T to split votes as the other smaller formations of the MDC are identical to the main party and all other parties see Zanu PF as the enemy; unfortunately such a scenario fosters Zanu PF victories and we might see more of them yet.