By Stewart Chabwinja
Of late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been making pronouncements on the prospects of credible general elections which have shocked many including party members, regional leaders and other progressive forces.
The most recent such statement, delivered by Tsvangirai in his capacity as supervisor of electoral processes ahead of polls — a position many deem a poisoned chalice — was his exoneration on Tuesday of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) secretariat from the 2008 election debacle.
Instead, he blamed “underhand forces” for the disputed polls despite his party demanding new personnel at the body.
This was quite a shocker, given the MDC-T had resolutely maintained Zec’s secretariat urgently needed overhauling to cleanse it of alleged state security agents loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
Assuming Tsvangirai is right the Zec secretariat is credible and in the clear, the question arises: Have the unnamed “underhand forces” been reined in? And to what extent is Tsvangirai’s thumbs up for Zec linked to the fact the commission has defended the premier’s involvement in election preparations, describing his role as “facilitative” as if that is a favour.
In addition to his ringing endorsement of Zec secretariat, Tsvangirai has backed the surprise appointment of Zanu PF politburo member Jacob Mudenda as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
Mudenda is a former Zanu PF Matabeleland North provincial chairperson who was governor during the Gukurahundi massacres, and was also fingered in the Willowgate scandal. His appointment caused an outcry, but Tsvangirai surprisingly sprung to Mudenda’s defence, insisting his past was behind him and thus did not matter as much as his legal experience.
This came at a time when Tsvangirai was accused of cosying up to Mugabe after he had trampled on the MDC-T’s national executive and national council resolutions on the Copac draft constitution and even though Mugabe had previously ignored him on making some unilateral appointments of judges, ambassadors and governors.
More disturbingly for those who feel the finishing line to Zimbabwe’s long journey towards genuine democracy is now within reach, Tsvangirai’s utterances increasingly appear to be those of a jaded fighter who has since thrown in the towel, now merely resigned to fate. Unless, of course, he has a secret grand political strategy and is managing certain political dynamics, then his remarks are shocking. But even then, the way he is doing it would still be problematic.
To show that Tsvangirai’s statements are worrying, Deputy Justice minister Obert Gutu’s remarks this week contradicting Tsvangirai’s on Zec demonstrates the problem.
While Tsvangirai now claims Zec doesn’t need reform, Gutu demanded changes to flush out partisan staff members with security backgrounds and ensure the urgent deployment of a substantive chairperson.
“There are hygiene issues which need to be addressed with respect to Zec,” said Gutu. “Zec must be cleaned up to remove those people who have compromised the credibility of elections in the past.”
Tsvangirai’s remarks place him in a tight corner by limiting his options should elections be disputed again. Given the reform implementation deficit, previous poll experiences and Zanu PF’s vice-like grip on state institutions, it does not require extrasensory perception to predict the forthcoming elections could be marred by violence and intimidation. The recent crackdown on civic society groups and the death of Christpowers Maisiri could be a harbinger of worse things to come.
What would Tsvangirai say if Zec botches its job and mishandles elections as it did in 2008? Will he blame “underhand forces” or the people constitutionally and legally appointed to run elections?
Some claim Mugabe’s decision to have Tsvangirai supervise electoral processes is a political gimmick to ensure the premier acts as an alibi for his own self-destruction by compromising his ability to complain and seek redress should the elections be stolen again. Tsvangirai’s remarks could come back to haunt him sooner rather than later.
This article was initially published in the Zimbabwe Independent under The Editors Memo.
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