21 April 2018

Zimbabwe: Liars - a Peculiar Headache for Foreign Poll Observers

Photo: New Times

Who should guarantee (or legitimise) a free and fair election in Zimbabwe? Put differently, who can ensure a free, fair and credible election?

Certainly not foreigners, unless they can be entirely neutral and can see below the surface, can observe beyond what they read in the media, which remain a serious contestant in the forthcoming elections, the same way they have been since the formation of the MDC 20 years ago.

It is to President Mnangagwa's credit that he decided to open wide the doors to foreign observers, underlined by the mantra that "we have nothing to hide".

He has allowed the opposition to campaign as widely and as far as they want, unhindered. Give them enough rope to hang (expose) themselves.

And it is the same opposition which ordinarily should take care of the first formulation of the question, give the electoral outcome a clean bill of health, if it were to act in uttermost good faith.

Unfortunately so far it doesn't seem to deserve such a mantle, in fact, it is unfit to hold it. Its conduct so far has been disappointing, pointing to a need for mind-set reform.

The State or the Government can focus on the second formulation, whose basis are the legal instruments and State institutions, and that is what President Mnangagwa has tended to focus on, believing his rivals in the opposition will play fair. He has repeatedly called for peace across the country, and ordered the law enforcement agencies to deal decisively with those who break the law. He has been unequivocal that violence will not be tolerated.

In fact, he has put his neck on the block, declaring he is prepared to surrender power if he loses, responding to otherwise provocative questions about his commitment to a peaceful transfer of power should the revolutionary party lose to the opposition.

The President has acceded to many demands from the opposition around amending the electoral law. Debate to this end is going on in Parliament, where all the main political parties are represented. They are free to make their inputs.

He has also invited all opposition leaders for a dialogue before elections, hoping that this would result in a candid discourse about what they want done to get an uncontested electoral upshot, not necessarily one in which the opposition is the victor, but can be the loser too. It is Zimbabwe which must come first.

But these overtures have largely been spurned. Instead, a dangerously cynical, if not perverted thought is emerging. It is being argued in some circles that President Mnangagwa's generosity and self-assured manner and Zanu-PF's low intensity campaign so far indicate they have rigged the elections. Why the confidence!

Lies and electoral demands

All of which informs our original question, as to whether the opposition can be trusted to pronounce a fair verdict on the outcome of our national elections, and even to give a benefit of doubt where it loses?

There are reportedly more than 120 political parties so far ready to take part in the elections end of July. In the absence of mergers or suicide, ZEC faces a headache of fitting at least 120 presidential candidates on to a single ballot paper.

However, at the head of this melange of me-toos is the MDC-T and its alliance partners, all of whom have staked their fortunes on the theatrics of one Nelson Chamisa.

A charming fellow, if all you wanted were entertainment and facile promises of Zimbabwe being ready to send a man to the moon next year. (Which perhaps explains his desire to win the elections through a televised public debate with President Mnangagwa. He loves spectacle and a cheering crowd, evangelist-style. He enjoys the pulpit and mesmerising his listeners about his previous encounters with God in heaven in another life.)

That's by way of a little digression. More materially, the MDC-T still carries the baggage from the old regime while its new leader has begun badly as not only too ambitious, but an incurable, straight-faced liar. And we are told he is pastor. Perhaps a prophet too!

We shall return to him shortly.

The MDC-T's slew of electoral demands has not changed since the days of Morgan Tsvangirai. Media reforms. Attacks against the security agencies and war veterans. They don't want anyone who has served in the military near electoral processes. Soldiers in rural areas, even in civilian attire, are said to intimidate potential voters.

They don't want other political parties near ZEC, but themselves. If they had their way, they would print the ballot papers and supervise the elections. If they can't then the whole world must do the observation and monitoring, except we must bar from this religious rite such inferior, untrustworthy creatures as Africans, Russians and Chinese.

What we are saying, believing the MDC-T and its alliance partners want to be taken seriously on their reform demands, is that some of them are deliberately designed to be impossible to meet.

They are designed to force the Government to abdicate its constitutional mandate, to create a vacuum for the MDC-T leader to walk into State House without a credible national programme. In short, the demands, which tend to mutate and multiply with every new gathering, are a catch-all alibi to not validate an electoral outcome in which the MDC-T and its leader are not the victors.

In other words, we have a contest in which the opposition want to predetermine the result.

Which leads us back to Nelson Chamisa.

If his party's biggest weakness were merely that it doesn't have a solid electoral programme to sell to the electorate, that would be forgivable. If it were merely that there are no democratic impulses in the way the party conducts its business, we would still give them the benefit of doubt, that they are still learning, after all they inherited their vocabulary and slogans from those who created them.

A fatally incurable defect of the MDC-T is that its new leader is a compulsive liar.

When one goes into an election, one expects to engage with honest rivals, even by politicians' loosest appreciation of honesty. One wants to contest honourable men and women who lose gracefully. One hopes to engage rivals whose persuasion is a prosperous nation as their ultimate reward, not the presumed comfort of State House.

A future leader must be trusted to tell the truth, to accept failure and to give credit where it's due. A future leader must be ready to concede defeat, and to try next time.

It is a hard-sell for honest and expectant voters to vote for a bare-faced liar. And even the most die-hard MDC-T supporters are getting disillusioned by their leader's strategy of victory through mendacity.

We won't bother questioning his professed respect for war veterans and the values of the liberation struggle. It's a public secret that the reason the land reform was so difficult and prolonged is because his party felt reclaiming land for blacks without compensating those who stole it was a grave legal injustice, never mind that those who stole the land were the authors of the law to justify and fortify their evil deed.

But then he has gone way beyond facile declarations.

He recently claimed he had been given the late national hero Joshua Nkomo's traditional stick, his trademark intonga, like the Nkomo family had anointed him heir-apparent. We don't understand why he thought the Nkomo family would let this abomination pass unremarked. But such doubts afflict those who rationalise what they do. We are treading in a different and difficult realm.

Now it is reported this week he told a South African television station ANN7 his supporters never touched his rival Thokozani Khupe even with a feather duster at the burial of the late MDC-T founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Instead, he said, it was Zanu-PF agents provocateurs who wanted to besmirch his party of sexcellency. He, in fact, had established a commission of inquiry which had turned upside down every stone to reveal this Zanu-PF skulduggery.

Demonstrations

If these lies are too small to worry about, we believe they are even more dangerous because they risk being believed. But our real story is that Zimbabwe deserves an opposition which is ready to concede defeat, doesn't take itself to be the end of all opposition, a party whose leader doesn't suffer from hubris. It needs an opposition which can guarantee and validate a free and fair election even if it were to lose.

Sadly, we hear only the opposite of what President Mnangagwa is preaching: threats of violence and street protests. This has been amplified by ZCTU president, one Peter Mutasa who is mobilising people for street demonstrations, including street vendors and kombi drivers.

This, we are told, is in solidarity with striking health workers at public hospitals

The motive in both cases, we believe, is to provoke a reaction from Government. A heavy-handed treatment of demonstrators will be hung on Africa Unity Square as proof of how things have not changed since the war veterans reclaimed the land, itself the ultimate prize of Zimbabwe's independence war, and why there can never be free and credible elections.

This is the challenge of our times. This is the challenge foreign election observers face. This is the challenge the MDC-T faces; reforming itself and its leader.

All of which doesn't stop people from voting for a candidate of their choice.

America just demonstrated to the world that any country can have its own Donald Trump.

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