MDCs' Boycott of Own By-Elections: Reason Minus Political Rationale

By Takura Zhangazha*
Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC-T announced recently that it will not participate in by-elections that it caused to be called.  This was after it had successfully caused the Speaker of Parliament in terms of Section 129k of the constitution to expel 21 MDC-Renewal members from the National Assembly and Senate.  This section of the constitution allows a political party’s leadership to write to the Speaker of the National Assembly and/or the President of the Senate advising that  specific members have ceased to belong to their respective parties and therefore should be removed from parliament. 

That it happened is now water under the bridge, pending any court applications by the affected members of parliament. What is most intriguing is the subsequent decision by the MDC-T, and the hints by MDC Renewal  to not participate in the pending by elections that they have both willfully caused. 

In a statement attributed to its spokesperson, Obert Gutu, the MDC-T argued that it cannot violate a congress resolution to the effect that it should not participate in any further elections until electoral reforms are completed.  He added the caveat that his party ‘does not blow hot and cold. We believe in sticking to principle.’ The latter statement might not be completely true in relation to his party’s commitment to ‘democratic principles’ but it is evidently convenient for the moment..

The same can be said for the MDC Renewal, which while using the argument that it will not contest because of the flawed electoral system, is evidently not ready to stand on its own feet to face a disaffected electorate. 

The political implications are another matter altogether.  In the first instance, it is a huge contradiction to seek ascendancy over rivals and then not want to reclaim political space that all along they have been clamouring for.  It was the MDC-T, in its demonstration of  its understanding  of the constitution and knowing the consequences of the action of recall, that chose this particular route.  Only to claim the sanctity of its congress.

It can only be argued that in its actions the MDC-T acted largely out of anger that borders on malice as opposed to principle.  If it believes in parliamentary democracy and the new constitution that it co-authored, it would have been a logical cause of action for it to immediately then say we are still committed to representing our constituents as a party. 

Alternatively for the MDC Renewal to not contest would be indicative of the fact that they were perhaps never ready to be stand alone politicians with their own direct electoral mandate. One would be forgiven for thinking that they were all along riding the coattails of a non-existent pact of an assumed ‘red-line that can’t be crossed. ’  It turns out that the MDC-T called their bluff and placed them in the dilemma of having to  ‘walk their political talk.’

The MDC-T’s resolution not to contest also means that their constituents or even their traditional strongholds will have other parties representing them.  All for lack of trying.  This generally defies political logic in the sense that it should be in more tenuous circumstances that one does not plan or see what exactly is going to happen.

 Unless they have a secret plan to their method, it is impolitic for them to want to reclaim seats via proportional representation and simultaneously abandon the direct democratic route of by-elections. Especially for seats they still won in 2013, warts and all.

Apart from the argument both MDCs  give of their commitment to principle, there are other more realistic reasons that may be preventing them from taking the risk of contesting the by elections. 

Foremost among these is that they probably do not have the resources. Both parties are recent beneficiaries of the Political Parties Finance Act. One more than the other but still the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have received from government in the last year should have been earmarked for this current eventuality.  It turns out  they no longer have this money nor will their leaders be asked to account for where it went. 
This point is raised primarily because whichever way one looks at them, electoral campaigns in Zimbabwe are increasingly materialistic.  It is one of the most serious threats to whatever semblance of democracy we claim to have.  Many an aspiring candidate/ party will tell you that in the final analysis they won or lost because they either had or did not have the money. Rarely do they mention their key campaign issues anymore.  Judging by the campaigns in those by elections whose dates have been set, it appears Zanu Pf is showing voters that it has the resources to campaign. 

If the opposition MDCs had the money, I am certain that they would have been in the running for these latest by elections. And there would have been little talk of principle as is now conveniently the case.  It does not mean that their issue of a level playing field is of limited consequence. It is however opportune for reasons that can best be described as opaque in the context of not only a new constitution but an illogical willingness to let go of what they had in the bag for only less than two years. 

*Takura Zhangazha a political commentator writes here in his personal capacity (