5 December 2012

Zimbabwe: MDC-T in a Quandary

IN 2007, former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell dispatched a note to Washington advising his superiors that Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai requires massive hand- holding and assistance should he ever come to power.

"He is the indispensable element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around their necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country's recovery," wrote Dell.

That same year, Dell left the country and two years later the inclusive government was formed following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that allowed the PM to share power with President Robert Mugabe.

The GPA contained a number of reforms that were meant to put the country back on the path to recovery, economically and politically. The constitution-making process was chief among them.

That exercise is now nearing its end, but sticky issues have since emerged, pushing the constitutional referendum that was provisionally set for last October to next year.

Last week, the PM agreed with President Mugabe to set up another taskforce to deal with the law making problems, a move that falls within ZANU-PF's designs.

President Mugabe's party has insisted that constitutional reform was not a Parliament driven process, preferring the Executive to take charge, a position the premier fell for last week.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formation led by Welshman Ncube has declined to follow the PM in bending principles in the constitutional matter, insisting that the issue must now spill into Parliament.

This week, analysts said if the PM alone agrees to the constitutional committee which his party opposes, it points to contradictions within the MDC-T that may need urgent addressing to avoid dividing the party.

By going against his party, the PM also exposed the inconsistencies within the MDC-T, weeks after his party adopted a criteria that falls short of meeting democratic standards in the selection of candidates to represent the formation in next year's polls.

The MDC-T wants incumbent lawmakers to go through a confirmation exercise to avoid being subjected to primary elections. They can only be contested in the event that they fail to reach the required threshold.

This process is, however, open to vote-buying and other forms of electoral fraud.

Analysts said the main reason why the MDC-T lacks clarity on key issues has to do with its origins or formation.

Ricky Mukonza, a political analyst, said there were a multiplicity of interests in the party that are proving to be difficult to manage. As a result, inconsistencies, indiscipline and defections by those who cannot put up with the MDC-T's lack of clarity crop up from time to time.

"Broadly speaking, the MDC-T needs to consistently and continuously adhere to and uphold democratic principles to retain some semblance of credibility in the run up to the elections. More specifically, the party needs to ensure that there is transparency and fairness in party processes. This is particularly important on the contentious issue of primary elections," said Mukonza.

"The MDC-T must learn to be consistent in the message it sends out. The formation of a committee on the constitution is a case in point and this leaves people with doubts on whether they should trust anything that comes from the party's leadership."

There is however, a school of thought that says the PM's approval of a constitutional committee maybe a step in the right direction as it is the only realistic way to resolve sticky issues around the constitution-making process.

The committee, according to this school of thought, might do a better job than a polarised Parliament where discussions have been tainted by partisan politics between ZANU-PF and the MDC formations resulting in their failure to address challenges bedevilling the country.

Takavafira Zhou, a political analyst, said it may be difficult to reach a consensus in Parliament and, as such, any serious consideration on numerous submissions could be reached outside the legislative assembly. In any case, the legislators have been prone to capitulating to a whipping system, which further erodes the outcome of their discussions.

"It is important to note that no party has a two thirds majority and therefore the constitution cannot even pass through parliamentary discussion unless ZANU-PF and MDC formations negotiate. At any rate, both ZANU-PF and the MDC parliamentarians have always been whipped before any discussion, which has also killed any meaningful discussions in Parliament," said Zhou.

He added that the contradictions emerging out of the MDC-T leadership on such issues such as the constitution-making and primary polls points to the need for it to be clear on its ideological stand point either as a neo-liberal party or a workers' party.

One way out for the party to avoid confusion before crucial polls was for it to go back to its 1999 founding principles of a pro-poor workers dominated party and demonstrate practically and realism to the poor, workers and students in particular who carry its aspirations for a better future rather than the current theoretical dogmas and doctrines.

Zhou said the party must also come up with a transparent way of choosing credible candidates rather than treating certain individuals as sacred cows.

"The credibility of candidates more than the rhetoric of political parties would decide the next elections. The MDC-T must mellow down to a more constructive approach permeable to reason and facts and demonstrate that it can work with people currently in ZANU-PF in pursuit of national interests even if it wins elections," he concluded.

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