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MDC-T inconsistency costly

19 Jan 2017 at 07:10hrs | Views
"MUGABE has two thirds! Vote DA."
This was the campaign message that South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) took to the electorate in that country's 2004 elections.

The party, then under the leadership of Tony Leon, was alive to realities on the ground that at that time - only 10 years after the advent of majority rule in South Africa - it made absolutely no sense trying to convince the electorate that this tiny white-led outfit was better than the African National Congress (ANC).

So the best the DA could do was to seek to get as many votes as it could to deny the ruling party a deciding two-thirds majority.

To achieve this, the DA decided to warn voters in that country that if the ruling ANC party continued to enjoy a two-thirds majority, without effective checks and balances, in the long-run South Africa risked going the way of Zimbabwe where anything illegal could be legalised because the ruling party could make and change laws at will.

This way, the DA started growing in leaps and bounds from being a minuscule political party to become the second largest party in South Africa that it is today.

In the case of Zimbabwe's logic-defying politics, the trend appears to be going in the opposite direction.

While in a bruising tug-of-war for political power it is considered the duty of a serious opposition to consistently ensure that the ruling party never gets anywhere near absolute power, President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF appears to be that rare case of well-managed luck.

Inconsistency in the opposition camp, which blows hot and cold, has given the ruling party a chance to recover and reinforce its position to make itself look frighteningly unassailable.

Since it entered the Zimbabwean political landscape in 1999, the Movement for Democratic Change, led by former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T), has never been weaker than it is right now after complacency resulted in Zanu-PF grabbing the Eucharistic two-thirds majority in Parliament in the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections.

This effectively reduced the opposition to mere spectators as Zanu-PF can now spitefully bulldoze through one legislative change after another.

Analysts said this week that had the MDC-T denied Zanu-PF a two-thirds majority in Parliament, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also Justice Minister, would not have dreamt of the idea of tinkering with the country's new Constitution - as he is currently doing - to allow the President to appoint the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President as opposed to the current constitutional position that allows the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) to conduct the selection process through public interviews and restricting the President's choice to the short-listed final list of three candidates.

This could be just but the first of a raft of constitutional amendments in the offing as Zanu-PF - taking full advantage of its majority control of the legislature - moves to fortify its position ahead of the 2018 elections.

There are already indications that the ruling party would go on to make others changes to the charter, self-serving changes similar to the majority of the 19 amendments that were made to the previous Lancaster House constitution that resulted in Zanu-PF entrenching itself into power.

At its December conference, Zanu-PF youths suggested that the Constitution be changed to remove the clause on the presidential two-term limit, a development that would give its leader, President Mugabe, a chance to become life president.

Under the current Constitution, if elected in the 2018 elections, that would be President Mugabe's last term in office.

The ruling party is also reportedly not happy with a clause in the Constitution that allows for the impeachment of the President.

The MDC-T, which shocked Zanu-PF in the 2000 parliamentary elections by grabbing 57 of the 120 seats on offer barely months after its formation, enjoyed its best electoral success in the March 2008 harmonised elections when it got 100 seats in the House of Assembly compared to Zanu-PF's 99, and President Mugabe came second to Tsvangirai, although official results showed that he failed to win the ballot outrightly, resulting in the run-off election that he later boycotted citing violence unleashed on his supporters.

It was a plebiscite that the electorate literally voted with their bellies because the country was at the time in the throes of its worst economic crisis, a crisis blamed on Zanu-PF misrule.

It was from this position of strength that the MDC-T ended up in the inclusive government whence it forced the drawing up of a new charter, which came into force in 2013.

Because it lacked consistency, the party went on to suffer its worst electoral defeat in 2013, giving Zanu-PF the leeway to undo the constitutional changes that had taken away the advantages that it had entrenched through the several amendments to the "good old" Lancaster House charter.

As if the electoral loss it has suffered was not devastating enough, shortly after the 2013 elections, the demon of factionalism struck the MDC-T, with some senior members of the party that included Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti blaming Tsvangirai for the electoral loss and demanded that he steps down.

The resultant power struggles led to the expulsion of 21 legislators from the party.

This was immediately followed by a resolution, at the party's 2014 congress, to boycott all future elections in protest of what it saw as a playing field tilted dangerously in favour of Zanu-PF, a self-defeating move that many did not understand what the MDC-T was hoped to achieve.

"Knowing Zanu-PF, I think it's hoping for too much to expect it to ignite reforms simply because of a boycott without more. You have to apply pressure and to do more to bring about the needed reforms," pointed out political analyst and constitutional law expert, Alex Magaisa, at the time.

Magaisa, who himself is a former advisor to Tsvangirai, pointed out that the move clearly exposed the MDC-T for its lack of strategy in the aftermath of the electoral defeat.

"That decision (to boycott elections) would have made more sense in 2013. Further, I also believe that when you take a position such as a boycott, it makes sense only if you have a back-up plan. You have to say, you are boycotting, but you are also doing A, B, C, D, to ensure that your demands for reforms are met. Otherwise you will remain in a perpetual state of boycott. Or if you eventually change your mind after many boycotts, people will say, but why did you waste all those opportunities boycotting elections?"

"It is like cutting off your nose in order to spite your face," said opposition politician, Jacob Mafume, himself a former member of the MDC-T.

In a seminal 2010 report titled: "Threaten But Participate: Why Election Boycotts Are a Bad Idea" Matthew Frankel used a comprehensive study of 171 case studies of election boycotts to explain why they typically yield unsuccessful results. After finding out that only in four percent (four in every 100) of the cases does an election boycott yield favourable results, Frankel argued that instead opposition parties should capitalise on the threat of boycotting as a powerful negotiating tool and leave it there because carrying out the actual boycott would do more harm than good to the political parties concerned.

The boycott strategy, just like any other forms of protest is meant to appeal to the other party's conscience by making them feel guilty, so it is only effective in cases where the party on the other side cares a lot about legitimacy, not to a party like Zanu-PF, which does not seem to have any scruples at all about retaining power at all costs.

Because the MDC-T stood firmly on its decision to boycott future elections, it did not contest the by-elections that resulted from the expulsion of its 17 elected "rebel" legislators and all others that were called for, effectively allowing Zanu-PF to take all, but one of the vacant seats.

This resulted in the MDC-T being reduced to the current 51 seats in the House of Assembly where it previously had 70.

This is pathetic when compared to the 213 seats that Zanu-PF now has in the same house.

With its numbers in Parliament whittled to a threadbare 71 in both houses, all the MDC-T can do, in response to Zanu-PF's daring move to vandalise the Constitution, is to announce that it is planning "massive" street protests. How effective these protests will be is yet to be seen. Magaisa could have been right in his conclusion that the party lacks strategy to deal with Zanu-PF domination.

By resorting to a strategy used by the weak and the faint-hearted, the MDC-T appears to have disregarded the wisdom of Shona sages who enjoin that makudo haaramwirwe munda, meaning that no matter how much baboons may ravage a farmers crop, it is foolhardy for the farmer to give them the whole field in protest because the baboons do not have any conscience. They will simply have a field day.

Only time will tell how many times the Constitution would have been changed when the country goes to the harmonised elections of 2018, by which time the playing field could have been tilted in complete favour of Zanu-PF.

This week, MDC-T secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora, tried to downplay the effect the decision to recall "rebel" legislators combined with that of boycotting elections have had on the party's role of being an effective opposition saying Zanu-PF has always had a two thirds majority even before the poll boycott policy and expulsions.

"We have no regrets at all about it (elections boycott) because it did nothing to change the balance of power because Zanu-PF has always had a two-thirds majority… even if we had contested in all the by-elections and won all of them, Zanu-PF would still have continued to have a two-thirds majority," said Mwonzora.

He defended the expulsion of the rebels saying as a matter of principle, there was no way the party would have allowed the legislators to remain in Parliament when they were no longer sharing the values that the MDC-T stands for.

While the MDC-T is seized with issues of principles and other issues of hygiene, Zanu-PF is now seized with consolidating power, closing every possible loophole that could be used to loosen its stranglehold on the levers of power.

It is debatable if Tsvangirai - who has presided over at least three splits of the party - had been more magnanimous and flexible when it comes to dealing with dissent within the rank and file of the party, how that could have helped in his dream of capturing State House, but it certainly would have made the situation different from the current position where Zanu-PF can afford to ignore the MDC-T out of existence.

Zanu-PF might have failed to realise its dream of a one-party state, but with a token opposition similar to the one it has at the moment, this could be a blessing in disguise as it enjoys both the benefits of total control as well as the veneer of legitimacy that comes with the country being seen to be a multi-party democracy.

Source - fingaz
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