Why election boycott is a weak tool

Questioning the credibility of the election institutions in Zimbabwe has become part and parcel of the election process. The electoral process is seriously flawed and no one has shown serious intention to fix the situation which is no wonder some Matabeleland movements are now convinced boycotting elections is our strongest tool.

Elections have not empowered people or improved lives in Matabeleland, this is nothing but the whole truth. We also accept that the FPTP electoral system does not work favourably for the people of Matabeleland and smaller parties in Zimbabwe but we cannot free Matabeleland without freeing its children, women and men who remain oppressed by the MDC/ ZANU PF hegemony.    

Let us be reminded that choices that we make today will make who we are tomorrow – no two ways about it. Now regarding voting in Matabeleland, we are the ones who are in power. We are the ones who have the power to use or withhold our vote; we are the ones with the power to change our voting habits. We are the ones in control of where our cross goes on the ballot paper, we can either put it down for local candidates from local organisations or boycott elections altogether.  

How effective election boycotts are as a political tool is anyone’s guess. I for one do not believe we can free Matabeleland by abandoning major institutions of control and leaving the political space free for the MDC formations and ZANU PF to shape in their own image.

It goes without saying that if we are so frustrated and disgusted by politics that we choose not to vote, we are in effect voting for the entrenched establishments of the MDC/ ZANU PF hegemony. For our information the two major parties are well aware that it is in their interests to keep us disgusted, uninterested, cynical and discouraged from taking part in active politics including voting.

We make it clear to our people that the choice is theirs to stay away from voting stations, but they need not fool themselves that by so doing they are not voting – whether you go out to the polling station or you stay at home, you vote. Those who actively cast their vote online or physically vote at the polling station choose their candidate and/ or monitor the process giving themselves a moral right to challenge the quasi-democratic processes and question election credibility. On the other hand by choosing to vote by staying away at home you tacitly double the value of some Diehard’s vote – the reality is that ZANU PF and MDC fanatics will vote.

Staying away may erode the legitimacy of elections but not the final result. By not voting we may win the moral debate but lose the political capital, and you do not get to control political power through moral posturing. This leads us to the question: If it’s not through elections, then what would be the alternative route to a fair political outcome?    

“The boycott of parliamentary institutions on the part of anarchists and semi anarchists is dictated by a desire not to submit their weakness to a test on the part of the masses, thus preserving their right to an inactive hauteur which makes no difference to anybody. A revolutionary party can turn its back to a parliament only if it has set itself the immediate task of overthrowing the existing regime.”

Leon Trotsky

It would seem to me the real safeguard of our vote is not boycott but a good education if not a formidable physical scrap with those in power – sustained violence or protest or even an armed revolution. Truth be told, the Matabeleland movement is nowhere near readiness to forcefully take over power. We have so far struggled to build political capital because we are failing to draw a coherent internal policy defining what we want our politics to do for us. If you have nothing to sell, people have zilch to purchase from you. That being the case, how sure are we that we can convince the public to sign up for a sustained physical confrontation?

On political education, we argue that we have yet to address the issue of poor voter registration. We need to understand why a nation that voted opposition in large numbers in the 1980s is no longer convinced by local politics. And those who vote need to understand the process goes beyond the mere voting, it is about their personal dignity; it is paramount they understand their beliefs and how those impact their choices.

Admittedly elections in Zimbabwe are rogued and not working to the general population’s expectations. Quite clearly changes are required in the Matabeleland political space, but will the boycott of Zimbabwean institutions be the birth place of change and empowerment? Any call for boycott must come as part of a broad and coherent strategy. Changes begin with changing ourselves, one can only change when they own their mistakes. We have able politicians in the region but essential as it is, ability alone will never take us anywhere, it is the pathway we take today that will lead us somewhere. Matabeleland national heroes will be born from the paths they choose not just the natural power they are endowed with. That time when we stop complaining, stop making excuses and start making changes will mark our maturity as a nation. 

Published by THE RESEARCH HUB

a progressive politics and policy researcher and author with an interest in Mthwakazi (Matabeleland) human rights, liberties, safety and security.

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