Zimbabwe: Threats of Elite Political Cohesion

opinion

THE next six months in Zimbabwe are going to be fairly decisive over the course the country takes for the next five years.

This is not because there has been any particular epochal shift in the way our society is run; be this in relation to our inclusive government's pending end of tenure, or its attendant undemocratic constitutional reform process.

Nor will the next six months be significant as a result of a major change to the national economy either by way of discovery of another lucrative mineral resource or major government policy pronouncement.

Instead, the next six months in Zimbabwe are prelude to a conclusion of elite cohesion in relation to varying aspects of our society from the political to the economic, the social and even the religious.

It is essentially a period in which we will enter a phase in which elitist political and economic permanence of privilege will be attempted.

In this phase, the major players will be the political parties and individuals who have been in the inclusive government and those that have been closely associated with it either through affiliate organisations or (in the wake of indigenisation) those in charge of business and capital.

The elite cohesion will begin with the common messaging around the constitutional reform process where all of the parties in the inclusive government will campaign for a "Yes" vote, ostensibly as a demonstration of national unity, but in reality in order to save face over the manner in which they handled the process.

While political rallies will be awash with exhortations to support the inclusive government's draft constitution at the referendum, the reasons given by the party leaders will be different, but all the same will be tantamount to cajoling of party faithfuls to ignore their own doubts and trust the party leaders at the expense of an objective pursuit of democratic truth.

Some rallies will be held jointly, others separately, but the message will be the same, "Vote Yes" and trust the party leaders.

Those who were foes in the last election will occasionally be forced to stand side by side and give testimony to how good the draft constitution is.

As the process wears on and as elections approach, it will be difficult to discern particular differences in policies and manifestos from the political parties to the electorate. Should the "Yes" vote triumph -- as expected -- the electoral campaigns themselves will be ambiguous to say the least.

From being campaign buddies in the "Yes" vote to being competitors once again in the electoral playing field may be something that most candidates will find hard to understand. All the same, the campaigns will once again be undertaken with an anticipation of partial, rather than complete, victory by all political parties.

The language may appear confident, but there will be silent admission that "we are in this together" from the political parties.

When the election occurs, there will be hope that as the ballots are counted, each of the major parties that currently serve in the inclusive government, will have enough parliamentary presence to warrant inclusion in a government formed by the winner of the executive presidency.

The reality may turn out to be different, but in their occurrence, the elections will betray an anticipation of the firm arrival of a default two-party political system in Zimbabwe, and therefore the arrival of a new but false political permanence where nothing can happen without the other.

While there may be no second inclusive government in similar fashion to the present one, there will most certainly be grounds for the formation of some sort of coalition government (which is the hope and prayer of the smallest party in the current government).

There will, however, be no Sadc mediator to rein in the winning party after the elections and Zimbabwe will most certainly be removed from being high on the regional body's agenda.

In essence, after the elections there will be a permanent and less negotiated government until 2018, probably led by a single party with the other two in tow and willing players in a continuation of the elitist politics that have characterised the inclusive government.

Major components of capital/business will also be aware of this and are ready to deal with any of the parties that win so long their interests are protected (even within the context of indigenisation).

Apart from praising either the draft constitution if it passes the referendum stage, they will praise all parties in the electoral process, support their respective campaigns and hope that all three parties will have some sort of role in the new government.

This not necessarily because of the urgency of "progress", but more in seeking to deal with the proverbial "devils" that they know.

A majority of civil society players will also be roped into the "Yes" campaign, not least because of their preferred political parties, but also in relation to saving face after the undemocratic constitutional reform process.

As such, a majority of civil society organisations (CSOs) will participate in the "Yes" campaign with political parties and whitewash the deficiencies of the process and content of the draft constitution, all in aid of the political brinksmanship of one inclusive government principal or the other.

When elections occur, the role of the CSOs will be less critical to electoral processes than was the case in 2008 and their potential complicity in the arrival at an elitist political settlement will be more apparent.

There will be significant anger if a favoured political principal loses and there will be attempts to mobilise some sort of new coalition together in the interests of redress, but it will not be as effective as was the case in 2008.

Essentially, there will be limited reasons for civil society to dispute the legitimacy of the elections, given the latitude they allowed the major political parties in the inclusive government to compromise the democratic principles without negotiating down to the wire.

All of this while the general social and religious scenes are increasingly dominated more and more by borderline, occult and bizarrely superstitious religious/cultural movements and organisations that will provide alternative visions of how to live a better life, without politics.

As it is, the next six months will most likely be less decisive or historical as many in the inclusive government or in civil society would have us believe. Indeed, there will be landmark political events such as a referendum on the draft constitution and a general election, but their outcomes will point to an augmentation of elite cohesion in Zimbabwe's body politic.

Elite cohesion in a country in as precarious a political and economic situation such as ours cannot be a good thing to anticipate. There may be those that will ask: What option do we have? The answer may reside in taking back the narrative from the narrow confines of the political parties and debating issues beyond their partisan interests.

Zhangazha is executive director at Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and writes here in his personal capacity.

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