16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: MDC-T Digging Own Grave


Prime Minister (pm) Morgan Tsvangirai Has of Late Been Frantically Trying to Clear Roadblocks Impeding the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (zec) From Discharging Its Duties Efficiently As the Cash-Strapped Electoral Body Prepares for Make-or-Break Elections Which Are Likely to Be a Hotly Contested Affair Between His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) Party and President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF. Rightly so, it makes a lot of sense for the MDC-T leader to take a keen interest in how ZEC is running its affairs since his party has been complaining bitterly about what it perceives as flawed past electoral processes in Zimbabwe and how ZEC and its predecessor, the Electoral Supervisory Commission have been partisan and biased in favour of ZANU-PF.

Also, as head of the Council of Ministers in the unity government, it is incumbent upon PM Tsvangirai to ensure that the coalition is not found wanting in its execution of an important process such as national elections. With all eyes likely to be on Zimbabwe before, during and after the elections, the country cannot afford another boob in the way it handles the forthcoming plebiscite, a major highlight for 2013.

Against this backdrop, the MDC-T leader's intervention has been of great assistance to ZEC. Finance Minister, Tendai Biti has already promised to release the long-awaited funding required for the voter registration exercise, which is running behind schedule. ZEC itself has also lauded the PM for his hands-on approach while dismissing claims by critics that the premier was interfering in the Commission's operations; describing the PM's role as that of a facilitator.

The Commission has a hectic schedule ahead. It must preside over a referendum for the new constitution as well as the national elections that would bring to an end the shaky government of national unity (GNU), which came into force in February 2009.

Because of the unresolved political question spawned by the sham June 2008 presidential election run-off, the country's economy has remained stuck in the mud while the bickering between the main political parties in the GNU has poisoned the political atmosphere.

How ZEC would conduct the referendum and the elections would have a bearing on the country's future. ZEC is responsible for the conduct of all national elections. It is also responsible for the staging of referendums; the registration of voters; compiling the voters' roll and registers; ensuring the proper custody and maintenance of the voters' rolls and registers; the delimitation of constituencies, wards and other electoral boundaries; designing, printing and distribution of ballot papers; approving the form of and procurement of ballot boxes; establishing and operating polling centres; conducting voter education; accreditation of observers and the conduct of the elections themselves.

Somehow, ZANU-PF, which has been frustrating the Prime Minister's role in the GNU while labelling him a ceremonial principal in the coalition has been allowing the MDC-T leader to meet ZEC officials; give directives and posture as if he is the de facto face of the country's electoral processes when this is far from being the case. And all of a sudden even ZANU-PF mandarins are now looking up to the PM to use his position to get ZEC going. Really!

The MDC-T should smell a rat: The party could be walking straight into a trap. ZANU-PF could be strategically allowing the Prime Minister to give an impression of being at the forefront of ZEC's activities in order to hoodwink the international community into thinking that the premier now has clout in the inclusive government and therefore is now well positioned to ensure that the referendum and the next elections are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law when this is far from being the case.

Somehow, the MDC-T leader and his party seem to be losing the plot by falling for ZANU-PF's sinister agendas. The party might live to regret it one of these days.

Instead of focusing on that which would make the outcome of the forthcoming elections credible - the electoral, media and security sector reforms - the MDC-T now appears worried more about the event itself and not the processes leading up to that event. Somehow, they have swallowed ZANU-PF's ruse hook, line and sinker and might in future find it difficult to extricate themselves from a process which they have willingly become part of.

There is really nothing on the ground to suggest that PM Tsvangirai is making progress in transforming the country's electoral processes. The new constitution, a key deliverable for the GNU, is still being negotiated while there has been no progress at all in implementing the electoral roadmap.

Also, instead of concentrating on issues that would guarantee professionalism at ZEC, the premier has conveniently avoided these hard issues in his interactions with the Commission. For instance, ZEC's secretariat is still full of State security agents who cannot be trusted in terms of delivering free and fair election - it is the same problematic, partisan, and militarised secretariat that presided over the 2008 sham elections. What has only changed is that the ZEC secretariat is now serving under newly-appointed commissioners headed by Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, a former high-ranking member of ZANLA, ZANU-PF's military wing.

What this means is that the electoral context, environment and administration have remained the same, making it impossible for the PM to influence any positive changes.

ZEC's independence is a critical issue in the management and conduct of elections. The Commission has the role of an umpire in elections and for that reason must exercise its powers fairly and impartially, treating each contestant equally and without fear or favour.

And yet ZEC's performance in 2008, in particular left much to be desired given the inordinate delays in releasing the Presidential elections results and its recognition of the result of what was essentially a sham June presidential run-off election notwithstanding the allegations of extreme violence in the lead up to that election. The electoral laws have also not changed that much, with those pushing for free and fair elections contending that these need to be amended in line with the Southern African Development Community's minimum conditions on the conduct of democratic elections.

By putting the cart before the horse, the MDC-T could be digging its own grave. It goes against reason for the MDC-T to worry about ZEC's readiness for elections when nothing has really changed from the 2008 situation in terms of the election processes themselves. The MDC-T no longer has the public sympathy that can enable it to win the elections without tangible reforms; credible candidates and a convincing election manifesto. A lot has changed ever since the MDC-T joined the GNU as a result of the party's unconvincing performance in government. Under these circumstances, the MDC-T can only do itself a favour by focussing more on reforms that would level the political playing field and not rushing for elections without these.

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