24 October 2012

Zimbabwe: MDC - T None the Wiser

opinion

PRIME Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) prides itself as a party of excellence.

In less than a year, the party's claim to distinction and superiority would be judged when the country goes for harmonised polls. It is not going to be a stroll in the park for the MDC-T.

ZANU-PF, the party's main rival, is an obstinate foe hell bent on continuity, hence its quest to rule in perpetuity using the same old rule book, however discredited, in a fast changing world.

Worse still, the MDC-T leader's habitual sexual gratifications seem to have battered his persona, giving the party a public face that is not so excellent.

Notwithstanding, in preparation for next year's plebiscite some within the MDC-T establishment had come up with proposals that would have resulted in some members being exempted from contesting in primary polls as a way of choosing election candidates.

The party had put in place a dual process of selecting party representatives: Sitting legislators would initially be subjected to a confirmation process, only proceeding to primary polls in the event of failure to reach a certain threshold in the initial exercise.

In their wisdom, the architects of this system had seen it as a political masterstroke that would deliver victory come elections next year.

Even though the party has finally decided not to adopt the proposals, the aborted system constitutes one of many occurrences in the party that calls into question its claims that it is a democratic movement.

Other cases abound: There are issues surrounding the October 2005 split; the sham poll that resulted in Lucia Matibenga, the Labour Minister, losing her post as the party's Women's League boss to Theresa Makone and the recent axing of Thabitha Khumalo as the party's deputy secretary for information and publicity.

Taken into context, it would seem the premier's party is emerging none the wiser from the inclusive government. There is a feeling within the MDC-T that even though the dual system for choosing candidates has been aborted, the spirit for openness in all party processes is being abandoned.

Since the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009, some within the MDC formations have become perverted by the trappings of power hence attempts to tinker with the selection processes. This has resulted in the prospect of Zimbabwe having a governing party that does not adhere to its founding principles.

This week, political commentator Takavafira Zhou, said the MDC-T risks breeding sacred cows within its structures, besides the real threat of the erosion of some of the party's founding principles: the need for openness and transparency.

"The dual process is not policy but a product of political expediency tailor-made to manage divisions or discontent within the MDC-T but results in the protection of some sacred cows within the party. It leads to an animal farm like society where some party candidates are more equal than the others," said Zhou.

"It sets a very bad precedent for any democratic party that aims at establishing an egalitarian society that respects equality of Zimbabweans and respects collective and individual freedoms."

There are always advantages in having open and transparent primary polls, as opposed to attempts to avoid them. The overriding objective is that individuals who survive such rigorous open contestation for power are seen increasing the party's chances of winning elections and forming a better government than previous administrations.

A consequence of opaque primary elections is that they reward deadwood, resulting in unwanted legislators or below average ones coming back to Parliament through the back door. This has the potential of weakening the party's campaign and increasing chances of having representatives in the country's eighth legislative assembly who do not meet the grade.

It may also result in serious divisions where incumbents that do not command popular support are parachuted as candidates by a defective system. Also, it may result in voter apathy in the event that the electorate disapproves candidates imposed on them.

The national director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Alouis Chaumba, said it would be fatal if the MDC-T were to implement an election system meant to window dress internal party democracy.

He said such a system may result in some members feeling cheated and used to catapult non performers to senior public offices.

"People want real not imagined democracy. A good plan would be to have performance indicators from the onset so that when the time comes, it will be easy to measure if the candidates have delivered or not. The country now needs performers not orators or rhetoric leaders who fail to deliver and expect to be voted or allowed to be given a new lease of life through a flawed selection process," concluded Chaumba.

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