MDC-T Boycott Decision Bold But Could Be Foolhardy

By Sij Ncube

Bulawayo – The MDC-T decision to boycott pending by-elections unless President Robert Mugabe’s administration rolls out wide-sweeping electoral reforms is unquestionably bold but it could very well end up being fool-hardy.

Lest the nation and the entire world forgets, the MDC-T and the Welshman Ncube formation forged a power-sharing truce with Mugabe and Zanu PF in 2008 after an inconclusive presidential election, culminating in the consummation of a government of national unity (GNU).

With MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai installed as prime minister and leader of government business, the party failed to coax or cajole Mugabe and Zanu PF to push through the requisite electoral reforms ahead of pending polls in 2013.

For nearly four years in government, the MDC formations failed to use their political clout and numbers to demand the electoral reforms until Mugabe collapsed the GNU in March 2013, resulting in the controversial July 2013 polls.

But with the opposition in a somewhat weaker position outside government, questions about whether it has the political wherewithal and support to now force Mugabe and a belligerent but strife-torn Zanu PF to accede to its demands.

What has changed which could make Mugabe have a change of heart at a time some hawks in Zanu PF have already endorsed him as the party’s presidential candidate for 2018.

MDC-T critics, however, are adamant the party is grandstanding or seeking cheap political mileage at a time when Mugabe is thought to be at his weakest due to internal strife in Zanu PF coupled with  an imploding economy.

Bulawayo-based political analyst Dumisani Nkomo, views the MDC-T strategy fundamentally flawed political, pointing out that the MDC-T should have defended their political turf by contesting the by-election, adding that the strategy could come to haunt the party ahead of the 2018 polls.

“It is very silly (to demand electoral reforms now) and shallow since they had a chance to influence (electoral) reform in the GNU,” said Nkomo.

Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based political blogger and analyst, says the MDC-T as an opposition has to be seen to be making such demands such as electoral reforms, “not least because they are not able to articulate their own agenda. The opposition must be making such demands but am not sure if it will take the country anywhere.”

The MDC-T has demanded changes to the composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) headed by Rita Makarau, a judge cherry-picked by Mugabe. The party also claims the board and secretariat of ZEC are packed with state security agents, including military personnel.

The party has also demanded electronic copies of the voters’ roll it claims if full of dead people.

Party national spokesman Obert Gutu says the MDC-T is right to demand electoral reforms, pointing out that ZEC is incapable of conducting a free and fair election.

“The ZEC secretariat is state affiliated security agents and other Zanu PF apologists. ZEC has got no control over voters roll. The voters roll continues to be a closely guarded Zanu PF regime secret,” said Gutu.

But Harare-based political analyst, who has previously worked closely with MDC- T, speaking on condition is not named, said while it was not clear if the party was grandstanding by its electoral reforms demands “but I have not seen them present a credible alternative.”

“I don’t think just boycotting election is enough, any boycott must be accompanied by an alternative programme that forces the regime to reform laws and state institutions and also mobilises opposition supporters to register to vote. Such a programme must be grounded in the people and must not be an elite talk shop confined to air-conditioned hotel rooms.” 

Gladys Hlatshwayo, a Zimbabwe political analyst presently studying in the United States of America, believes the MDC T has lost its steam and instead should be focusing on re energising its base.

Hlatywayo is adamant the MDC-T is currently a problem for Zimbabwe just like Zanu PF.

“They (MDC-T) must be a source of hope not despair. With all the problems Zimbabwe is facing, what the people require is hope. Their fights are pulling the democratization agenda decades back and it is so energy sapping. They must focus on the broader agenda of a democratic Zimbabwe not small and petty politics. When people called for reforms they argued they had everything under control during the GNU and yet nothing was done. Only to cry foul after elections,” she said.

Nqobani Jele, a student of politics at a local university, said while the MDC-T decision appeared bold it could turn out to be fool-hardy for the opposition.

“The MDC-T might not be able to retain some of its stronghold but time will tell if the bold decision to demand reforms is right or a foolish one. Let us wait and see come 2018,” said Jele