The Prospects for Electoral Pacts and Democratic Progress in Zimbabwe

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zimbabweIn this opinion piece, Pedzisai Ruhanya  stresses the need for the opposition to unite ahead of this year’s elections in Zimbabwe. Pedzisai is a PhD candidate and the director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Trust.

Just as Kenya’s new deputy president William Ruto was critical to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win in the recent elections, Professor Welshman Ncube and others could play a critical role in determining whether or not Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai emerges victorious in Zimbabwe’s watershed polls, later this year. 

In Kenya, outgoing prime minister Raila Odinga lost more than two million votes after he severed ties with Ruto, his key political ally, during the constitutional struggles in Kenya. Ruto subsequently helped deliver the presidency to Kenyatta and his pragmatic team.

As Zimbabwe prepares for its first elections since the transitional government was established in 2008, much will ride on the degree to which each side can drive voter registration and forge strategic alliances with other political groups.

Whilst parliamentary elections are important in Zimbabwe, all eyes will be on the political battle over the presidency, which will determine who will command the bulk of the country’s institutional power and resources. For, even under the new constitution, the political executive in Zimbabwe is incredibly powerful.

Indeed, one cannot understand opposition politics in Zimbabwe, and the counter-hegemonic political struggles in the country at large, without making references to the dictatorial presidency and its impact on the electoral playing field.

The hard lesson learned in the elections of March 2008, was that parliamentary seats are not enough. The opposition need to win the presidency in the next elections.

A domineering presidency remains the single biggest impediment to truly competitive democracy in Zimbabwe, and Africa in general. Consequently, prospects for democratisation rest, in large measure, on the opposition’s ability to capture this office and reform it, forcing the executive to share power with the legislature and judiciary.

At the moment, however, the political opposition are weakened by three factors. Firstly, Mugabe enjoys advantages of incumbency stemming from executive dominance. Secondly, the opposition lack financial and analytical clout. Thirdly, and most crucially, the opposition are failing to understand the importance of uniting around a single presidential candidate, and crafting a genuine democratic framework for the elections and beyond.

The two MDC formations – led by Tsvangirai and Ncube – are centrally important to any electoral pact, but alliances should not stop there. Every vote counts. This means reaching across to those who opposed the recent constitutional referendum and managed to gain 200,000 votes in the process: They are likely to play an important role in the election.

Additional political allies  include groups such as those led by liberation war veteran and Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa; Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn president Simba Makoni; and the leadership of progressive civic society institutions such as the National Constitutional Assembly, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, and the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe.

So why are such alliances not occurring? As far as Tsvangirai and Ncube are concerned, their differences appear to be petty and personal rather than deeply ideological. Serious and genuine talks involving the top leadership of both parties can easily resolve the issues at stake. If Tsvangirai and Ncube could both work with Mugabe, why would they not work together for the broader cause of democracy and national progress?

The regional results of the presidential poll in March 2008 show that Mugabe would have won in only three provinces — Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East — if Tsvangirai and Ncube had united. Worse still for Mugabe, his margins in those three provinces would have been been wafer thin if the opposition had joined forces.

Yet, due to such their division, Mugabe retained his hold on the presidency after the 2008. With a united opposition this year, Mugabe’s electoral defeat could be undeniable.

A longer opinion piece on this topic is available on the Zimbabwe Independent’s website

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