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The elusive promise of a democratic breakthrough

22 Dec 2023 at 18:19hrs | Views
SINCE 2000, there have been several attempts to dislodge the ruling party, Zanu –PF, from government. The ruling party's mismanagement of the economy has led to an economic crisis that has rendered many Zimbabweans poor.

This has led to an intensification of calls for the removal of Zanu-PF.

The formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999 heralded a serious threat to Zanu-PF's hold on power.

As the economy continues to deteriorate, people have become dissatisfied with the ruling party.

As it became more evident that there was a real danger of losing power Zanu-PF began to tighten the grip on power. Ever since there have been attempts to dislodge the ruling party from power by then MDC, now reconstituted to Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

But Zanu-PF has maintained its grip on power.

While these parties hold promise, it is essential to recognise that they are not a guaranteed solution for achieving democratic change.

In Zimbabwe, several factors limit the effectiveness of political parties in driving substantial democratic reforms.

This article examines the challenges faced by political parties and explores alternative avenues for achieving meaningful change in the country.

It is mainly influenced by the successive events in the opposition and ruling party.

Challenges affecting opposition

The opposition, since, 2000 has faced many challenges that have hindered it from dislodging Zanu-PF and attaining power.

Even though the opposition still enjoys the trust of many Zimbabweans to turn around the country's economic fortunes, it has not been able to turn the popular vote and citizen's trust into power.

This is because of many underlying challenges that the opposition has failed to address over the years.

Lack of ideological grounding

Opposition parties in Zimbabwe since 2000 have often been criticised for a lack of clear ideological grounding. This has made it challenging to determine where they stand on matters of principles and which traditional ideological spectrum they align with.

This is mainly so because in most cases, opposition parties have been formed in response to the ruling party, rather than being built around a specific ideological foundation.

This has led to a focus on challenging the ruling party rather than presenting a comprehensive alternative vision, which makes them reactionary than proactive.

The ideological silence in the opposition parties has led them to attract everyone who is opposed to the ruling party and some who may not necessarily align with their ideas.

This has mainly led to unity along personal characters instead of aligning ideas.

This inability to accurately define themselves has made it easier for cracks to emerge as characters often clash and are not glued by any idea other than to remove Zanu-PF. The opposition has for a long time relied on a protest vote.

Lack of a clear-cut political strategy

Opposition parties in Zimbabwe have faced criticism for not developing a well-defined and effective strategy to dislodge Zanu-PF.

While there have been instances of protest, boycotts, and legal challenges, the opposition has struggled to create a cohesive and sustained strategy to effectively challenge the ruling party's grip on power.

This has allowed Zanu-PF to maintain its dominance despite public dissatisfaction.

The opposition parties have also failed to harness and mobilise general anger and turn it into a sustained action against the ruling party.

It has often branded itself as an electoral outfit whose activity outside elections is limited.

This is also coupled with the inability to mobilise regional support to rally behind their cause.

Internal contradictions

The opposition parties have been grappling with internal power struggles which have had a detrimental effect on the struggle for democracy.

There have been constant fights to control the opposition parties by internal factions.

This has been to the advantage of ZanuPF, which has thus far taken advantage and exploited these internal strifes.

The internal power struggles have often left the opposition parties divided and weak, which has adversely affected their quest for power.

In most instances, conflicts have been a result of character clashes rather than ideas.

The opposition in Zimbabwe is built and mobilised around individuals, not ideas.

This makes it easier for internal power strives.

There is also general greed and hunger for power within the opposition political circles.

Fragmentation and disunity

One of the major challenges confronting political parties in Zimbabwe is their fragmentation and lack of unity. The numerous parties often compete against each other, instead of fostering cooperation.

This disunity weakens the collective voice of opposition, making it harder to challenge the ruling party effectively.

Infighting and power struggles within these parties further exacerbate this problem, leading to divided agendas and weakened positions.

For example, the Citizens Coalition for Change is currently battling with an internal strife for leadership and control of the party because other leaders perceive a loss of power as relegation from the feeding trough.

These factional fights date as far back as the formation of the MDC.

The regime capitalises on these conflicts to decimate the opposition by capturing one faction and influencing distractive acts of recalls, diversion of the political parties' funds, and further extending their dominance in parliament to entrench a de facto one-party state.

Influence of the ruling party

Zanu-PF, has maintained a firm grip on power for decades. Its dominance, along with its control over key state institutions, hinders the ability of opposition parties to effect change.

The ruling party utilises various tactics such as violence, intimidation, and restrictive legislation to suppress opposition voices and maintain its hold on power.

This creates an uneven playing field, making it incredibly challenging for political parties to gain traction and rally public support.

Recent history records the death of opposition activists like Mboneni Ncube, Moreblessing Ali, and Tafirenyika Masaya as a result of politically motivated violence and extra-judicial killings.

The ruling party does all this to maintain its hold on power.

But the same party that came into power on the promise of majority rule, free and fair elections embodied as one-man-onevote, and social justice.

They got drunk in power, became corrupt and betrayed the aspirations and hopes of the masses, which makes us suspicious of even their opponents today.

We are also learning from our neighbours in Zambia where the late former president Frederick Chiluba and the MMD removed Kaunda and his unIP, only to be what they were trying to cure.

The betrayal of these fragile promises of democratic change makes it difficult for the voter to invest confidence in politicians and their parties.

Election irregularities

Elections play a significant role in shaping the political landscape in Zimbabwe.

However, political parties face numerous challenges during the electoral process.

Reports of election irregularities, voter suppression, and biased electoral commissions have become all too common.

These factors undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process and limit the ability of opposition parties to achieve electoral success.

Without a fair and transparent electoral system, political parties struggle to bring about real change through the ballot box.

Economic struggles

The challenging economic conditions in Zimbabwe have led to high levels of unemployment, inflation, and poverty.

as a result, many Zimbabweans are preoccupied with their daily survival, making political involvement less of a priority.

This economic struggle, coupled with an environment of political repression, often results in citizen apathy and a lack of faith in political parties.

Without an engaged and active civil society, the potential for political parties to drive democratic change is significantly diminished.

Alternatives for democratic change

While political parties face formidable challenges, it does not mean that democratic change in Zimbabwe is unattainable. There are alternative avenues that can complement the efforts of political parties.

There is a need for opposition parties to form a broad issue-based movement to challenge Zanu-PF.

It is important to understand that it requires collective efforts to remove ZanuPF, hence the need for the opposition to unite forces with churches, students, unions, civic society groups, and many other groups in rallying support towards a democratic breakthrough. unity of purpose is the only arsenal the opposition has currently.

Social movements

Non-partisan grassroots movements and civil society organisations play a crucial role in advocating for change. These movements, fuelled by ordinary citizens, can raise awareness, mobilise communities, and advocate for democratic reforms beyond the limitations faced by political parties. The opposition party needs to work closely with social movements in organising communities. This requires a welldefined goal and ideology for the union to work.

We can make reference to #ThisFlag Movement and Tajamuka, who amplified the agitation for Mugabe's removal in 2017.

International pressure

The opposition needs to reorganise its foreign policy. They have to work on regaining the support of the region. While the opposition has gained the trust of the Western countries, they must work hard to gain the trust of the Sadc, the au, and african governments.

It must as a matter of urgency work to shake off the puppet tag. Regional and international organisations and foreign governments have a role to play in promoting democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe. By exerting pressure and imposing sanctions where necessary, the international community can leverage its influence to effect change and support democratic aspirations within the country.

There is a need for the international community to intervene in the Zimbabwean crisis to force a negotiated settlement.

Citizen engagement and activism

Active citizenship and individual activism are essential for fostering democratic change. Citizens can engage in peaceful protests, campaigns, and advocacy, creating a groundswell of public support that transcends the limitations imposed by political parties.

Therefore, the opposition must give political education to the masses. While Zimbabweans aspire for change they are not doing much to attain it. They must understand that they are the change they are seeking.

This requires a clear programme of action by the opposition to teach the people their role in the quest for change in Zimbabwe. The people must learn that change cannot be outsourced.

In conclusion, while political parties are significant actors in any democratic system, they face numerous challenges in Zimbabwe that limit their ability to drive substantial change.

Fragmentation, control of the ruling party, election irregularities, economic struggles, and citizen apathy all play a role in hampering the effectiveness of political parties.

However, by exploring alternative avenues for change, such as social movements, international pressure, and active citizenship, there remains hope for democracy to flourish in Zimbabwe.

It is through a collective effort that democratic aspirations can be realised and sustained beyond the realm of political parties.

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Kanhenga is a public intellectual and human rights activist. Matete is a democracy campaigner and founder of Project Vote.

Source - the independent
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