Lessons from the July 31 2013 Zimbabwe General Election

There are certainly no major new lessons to be learned from the latest edition of Zimbabwean general elections except that Matabeleland South has rather suspiciously become a haven for ZANU PF and that Matabeleland nationalism has yet to grip the imaginations of people from the region. Zimbabwe’s voting patterns have always reflected more ethnic relevance as opposed to other competing political factors; this was not to change significantly in this election. ZANU PF did not disappoint but kept to its perfected reputation of appropriating people’s votes as much as MDC-T continued with its strategic incompetence.

In an ideal democratic world individuals who show up at an election are the major determinants of its outcome but in Zimbabwe ZANU PF decides winners and losers. The reality and experience of more than three decades and many elections in Zimbabwe teaches us that organised greed always triumphs over disorganised democracy, itself a by-product of organised greed. The latest election also confirms to the Zimbabwean electorate that Tsvangirai is the least suitable opposition political leader at this point in Zimbabwean politics.

Elections are the cornerstone of democracies hence preserving the credibility of the electoral process is seen as essential for most democratic governments. Transparency is vital and that goes beyond the conduct on the day of voting; it incorporates all actions prior to, during and after the elections. Such processes as the inspection of the voters’ roll by interested individual citizens, representatives from political organisations and reputable independent civilian and international/ regional bodies cannot be over-emphasised. Compromising any element of the electoral process threatens the democratic principle of transparency. The MDC-T and other opposition politicians were found wanting in relation to the voters’ roll.

It defies political reason that any credible Zimbabwean opposition leader will lay blind faith in a voters’ roll that has virtually been the sacred document of ZANU PF, a political institution with a penchant of cheating. ZANU PF’s manipulation of the roll is neither new nor secret and to think the opposition were prepared to enter into a contest without scrutinising the fundamental tool of the electoral process is unforgivable incompetence.

Why did the opposition entrust ZANU PF with the electoral roll? To give a football analogy: contesting the election without seeing the electoral roll was like a football team yielding to instruction not to use the match venue to prepare for a major cup final yet allowing their rival not only to practise on the venue but to also use the match ball. Tsvangirai has consistently shown a lack of leadership: what were the recommendations of the SADC meeting in Maputo regarding the election dates and processes? Why did the MDC-T and other opposition leaders not insist on ZANU PF meeting those before any election could be conducted? What assurances were sort from and given by ZANU PF in respect of the voters’ roll? In short, what was the rush? I appreciate it is easy to criticise after the event but this author has previously argued that under Tsvangirai’s leadership the MDC-T has failed to transform itself from a mere protest party to a government in waiting.

The general election has come and gone and I remain unsure of what was the flagship MDC-T policy that people were supposed to vote for. MDC-T’s campaign was characterised by gross populism and incompetence that included parachuting popular individuals from abroad and imposing them as party candidates at the expense of and against the will of local party leadership.

While there is no question the MDC-T’s 2009 intervention stabilised the economic fundamentals and improved the political image of Zimbabwe, the challenge always lay in the party successfully maintaining its separate identity as a party of the working public. The MDC-T failed that test; it failed to dispel the perception that the party was growing distant to the realities faced by its support base while its leadership amassed wealth. Failing to appreciate the impact of joining ZANU PF in government, in particular failing to recognise that the action actually cooled a potentially beneficial civil unrest and relieved pressure off the ZANU PF government and assuming that the electorate would exclusively credit positive outcomes of the government of national unity (GNU) to MDC-T were dangerous miscalculations. It has to be noted that political scientists had raised such questions including suggesting that the party had actually lost considerable support since the last election.

The MDC-T had started to believe in its own hype; there was complacency based on uneducated assumptions that the party was now more popular than ZANU PF and the MDC was not a credible threat to Tsvangirai’s Matabeleland constituency. Thus, instead of seriously engaging the MDC, the party opted for the arrogance route and patronising the MDC opting to dismiss the party as a village and/ or regional party. The nuance here was that MDC was a less sophisticated tribal party. Is it not disturbing that an aspiring leader would not only share such condescending views about the rural constituency but would openly air them?

The other victim, hopefully temporary, of the election was the Matabeleland nationalist agenda. Matabeleland nationalists had hoped this election would provide a platform to build on but a high turnout when some nationalists would have preferred non-participation and 180 votes accrued by three candidates is evidence the nationalist argument has yet to grip the public. The problem with Matabeleland nationalism is the lack of strategic coherence.

The now confirmed ‘resounding’ ZANU PF ‘victory’ reflects badly on Tsvangirai than it illustrates ZANU PF’s rather suspicious Election Day resurgence. Despite his open ambition to lead Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai is the least deserving both as a politician and as a man. Tsvangirai’s role in the damaging 2005 MDC split and the subsequent failure to adequately address it between then and 2013 has not been a function of intelligible principle or astute leadership but mainly down to naivety and arrogance. A total of 180 votes are a depressing but accurate reflection of where the nationalism agenda currently lies in the region’s politics.

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