Zimbabwean Elections Unmasked: What Next?
Opinion by Cris Chogugudza
The much dreaded and contentious Zimbabwean watershed election came and went peacefully, but not fairly in the eyes of the “defeated” whose bitterness is still conspicuous in the amount of rancour and discontent within their ranks.
For the “victorious” camp, there is pomp and fanfare. However, there does not appear to be any sense of celebration on the part of the general public. The ordinary people are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future under a Zanu PF government.
The election results were shocking for many who anticipated a moment of change. For Zanu PF supporters and friends alike, it was a moment of triumph and a destiny changer for some whose careers had been on life support for a period of time.
For the majority in Zimbabwe, the challenge now is how to move forward and create a country that values its citizens first, ahead of selfish or individual party interests.
The response of the international community to the election results was inherently symptomatic of their interests in Zimbabwe. The West, particularly the Anglo-American and European alliance largely perceive of Zimbabwe as a dictatorship that needs to be replaced by a presumably, modern liberal democratic dispensation represented by the MDC formations with Morgan Tsvangirai as leader.
They see Tsvangirai as an embodiment of the democratic change that Zimbabwe badly needs to attract the much needed investment and support from the western capitals. They made their respective positions very clear, that the election process was fundamentally flawed and therefore the results were not credible in their moral judgement.
Those who support the establishment believe the election was largely peaceful and therefore represented the will of the Zimbabwean people. It is however, grotesquely naïve to suggest that a free and peaceful process does necessarily equate to a free and fair process.
Some analysts have stated that SADC and AU are sick and tired of the Zimbabwean issue being on the agenda perpetually. In this regard therefore, the result of the election in the eyes of SADC and AU consigns the Zimbabwean issue to the dust bin.
They now have an alibi or much needed escape route to concentrate on “more pressing domestic issues” and of course the aftermath of the Arab spring in the North Africa, including the mayhem in Egypt. As for Zuma, the powerful big brother next door whose love and hate relationship with fellow liberation colleagues in Zanu PF needs urgent repairing, the election result could not have been any better than anticipated.
As for ordinary Zimbabweans, there is divided opinion regarding what really happened to this widely anticipated election that produced the same winner for the past 33 years. There are mixed views on how to move the country forward under Zanu PF again.
Zanu PF camp and its sympathisers, say the election was a defeat to western imperialism fronted by the gullible ally or ‘Puppet’ Tsvangirai. They say, the poor MDC leader gave the game away, by being too cosy in government, enjoying the grandeur of the executive and ignoring the plight of his constituents who responded by giving him a bloody nose on July 31.
Since the release of election results, there has been a plethora of theories of how MDC lost to Zanu PF. The scale of the loss remains a big mystery for a party that dominated political space and was consistently leading in opinion polls since the last election in 2008. Zanu PF claims they were better organised than MDC, courtesy of the use of state machinery. They also claim to have had policies that resonate well with the electorate.
The truth of the matter is the victory story remains controversial and will remain so for the foreseeable future as there are no signs yet of the MDC conceding defeat or Zanu PF yielding to any political pressure. The premature congratulatory messages of victory to President Mugabe from world leaders, also complicates matters further as Mugabe proclaims his legitimacy as the new leader of Zimbabwe.
MDC supporters are convinced that even if their party slackened a bit and did not reinvigorate their efforts in mobilising grass root support as alleged by critics, the margin of defeat couldn’t have been as huge.
The biggest charge against Zanu PF by MDC is the fact that former systematically manipulated the electoral process and rushed to elections without implementing the necessary reforms first, thereby rendering the whole election process unfair and consequently fraudulent.
Further, this is in view of the fact that the history of elections in Zimbabwe has always been dominated by arguments about legitimacy, due to the flawed electoral processes partly responsible for previously “stolen elections”.
This is irrespective of the fact that this time elections were preceded by a successful Constitutional Referendum which gave birth to a new Constitution largely agreed to by the two main parties.
Stolen or lost, it is time that Zimbabweans focus on important bread and butter issues ahead and decide what to do next, the truth of the matter is that Zanu PF will not agree to have a rerun of the entire election any time soon. At this juncture, let’s take stock of the individual contestants to the election:
Morgan Tsvangirai (61)
It is critical for Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC Leader), to take the initial first step to legally challenge the election results with a view to have them overturned or nullified due to “evidence of systematic fraud”.
Tsvangirai had the option of boycotting an unfair electoral process but was keen not to repeat the mistakes of 2008 where he was branded a coward. He was caught up between a rock and a hard place but eventually decided to contest buoyed by people’s high level of enthusiasm and support.
The success of Tsvangirai’s bid to overturn election results look slimmer. The plain truth is that this election was a lot better organised than the last three or four, in terms of cost to people’s lives.
Second, Tsvangirai needs to acknowledge that after ‘three defeats’ to the veteran Octogenarian leader, it’s time to reflect and perhaps take a back seat to allow a new and fresh leader to take charge of the party now or sooner than 2016 in order to rebrand the party and stamp his authority in readiness for the next election in 2018.
Any attempt by Tsvangirai to emulate the Zanu PF’s “handiende” (won’t go) syndrome may be costly to the party and his reputation as a politician. By the same token, any attempt to jump ship sooner than is necessary may lead the party to destruction or relegate it to a mere debating society, which is not in the people’s best interests.
Morgan should shy away from the populist Zanu PF mantra that only the people will choose when one should go. People can be convinced that one’s time is up and it is in the party’s interest to elect a new leader. For instance, in UK, most of Europe and US if and when a party leader loses an election they resign straight away but this should be put into proper context.
Again, if the MDC executive decides their chances of winning elections in future lie in the charisma and persona of Morgan Tsvangirai they may quite legitimately endorse him again for continued and perhaps renewed leadership.
The same happened to the likes of Chafukwa Chihana of Malawi, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Inkhata of South Africa Etienne Tshisekedi of DRC and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal (former president) who have been in opposition leadership for over two decades.
It is however, important to recognise Tsvangirai as a very brave, one of the bravest politicians Zimbabwe has ever seen in recent times. He appeals easily to the general populace, who constitute the bulk of voters. What happens between now and the period following Mugabe’s inauguration determines the future career for Zimbabwe’s most formidable opposition figure.
Robert Mugabe (89)
President Mugabe has been in power for more than 30 years, he is currently the oldest public political figure alive, he is older than the two living Popes (Benedict and Francis), older than Queen Elizabeth of England, older than Israel’s Shimon Perez, older than Fidel and Raul Castro, older than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and many others. This says a lot about his age, courage, his agility, his ‘resistance’ to senility and how he views power and being in power.
Mugabe’s health remains the biggest mystery the country is not aware of. Many lieutenants of his party and party faithfuls believe that he won the election “fair and square” despite his advanced age and rumours about his ailing health. Some believe that the old man campaigned hard and in some cases was allegedly in a begging and conciliatory and less triumphant mood just before the election.
Whether this was a gimmick to wood wink the electorate only god knows. He fought the election as an underdog as many people believed Zanu PF was history but a little resilient.
The truth of the matter is that part of the Zanu PF victory was attributed to the uneven ground on which the election was fought, possible rigging where things went undetected and change of tactic from the usual wanton beating of political opponents to the most disciplined political behaviour unprecedented in the history elections in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s opponents accuse him of being ineffective and hostage to the military, they also accuse him of being a “Puppet” of the Military and being used by China. What is of the essence now is how Mugabe and his cronies steer the country forward now that they secured a huge victory, stolen or not.
Most importantly, the country will demand to know when President Mugabe wants to leave power. The succession issue will only become more livelier and sensitive and even destabilising during this parliament, if Mugabe continues to sweep it under the carpet and has the potential to tear the party into pieces.
Makoni (63), Ncube (52), Dabengwa (73) et al
The above presidential aspirants were routed and reduced to political nonentities and therefore should re-examine their attempts to be involved in presidential politics in future. Prof Ncube of the smaller MDC, officially known as MDC N, on his part tried his best, and of course performed much less than Dr Simba Makoni in 2008. However, he is a voice of reason for the enlightened and those who want more rational form of politics.
Despite his alleged shortcomings, Prof Ncube is an asset to Zimbabwe and any politician who needs his services. I am not sure whether he can survive the next election on his own, as a presidential candidate outside a grand coalition. Prof Ncube would do well under a united MDC and the anticipated departure of Morgan Tsvangirai from the helm of MDC T could provide him with a new lease of life as an executive committee member or party leader.
It is doubtful whether he can wrestle power from the other leadership aspirants such as Tendai Biti (outgoing Finance Minister) and Nelson Chamisa (Outgoing IT Minister), if a vacancy were to arise. Dr Simba Makoni of the invisible Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn is now finished politically having failed to secure a parliamentary seat in Manicaland. On paper, Simba is the best President Zimbabwe will never have.
The man had a good career during his early days, from being one of the youngest Ministers in 1980, Secretary General of SADC and Finance Minister in one of Mugabe’s technocratic cabinets of yesteryear. His fortunes nosedived after leaving Zanu PF a few years back and continue to trade the path of political irrelevance. Makoni’s future lies in either joining MDC or returning to Zanu PF and beg for forgiveness.
Nevertheless, he remains one of Zimbabwe’s best brains and can still be useful in a limited way. Dumiso Dabengwa, former Zapu Intelligence Supremo, ex-Zanu PF Home Affairs Minister and now leader of a nostalgic Zapu party now finds himself consigned to political Siberia and his survival may well lie in rejoining Zapu or joining MDC T. However, the man remains a hero but not sure the country needs him for a leader.
As for Prof Mutambara (47), outgoing Deputy Prime Minister, he is keeping his options very close to his chest. His decision not to take part in the elections was a brainer, as it was certain that he was gonna lose. However, his next move will determine the political direction he intends to travel.
Like Prof Ncube and Dr Makoni, Prof Mutambara is an asset to the country. He is one of the very few people who talk sense economically and his advice on critical strategic national issues speaks volumes of his vast knowledge and vision. As a presidential contender, he may still need to prove his mettle.
Finally, the days ahead will be more defining for Zimbabwe and the truth is the future of the country is not looking good if Zanu PF continues to travel along the path people have known them for past 33 years.
Anything short of rebranding and clarity on the succession will dampen any little hope for a better future. The truth is we will see more of the same and if anything more emigration from Zimbabwe by the remaining skilled professionals who are supposed to steer the economy forward.
There is need for real debate as to whether the magnitude of the problems in Zimbabwe can be addressed by one party in a country deeply divided along ideological, party and to a little extent ethnic lines.
We need a Zimbabwe for everybody where everybody is allowed to take part in the development of the country unhindered, without fear or favour.
Food for Thought
Crisford Chogugudza is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He can be reached on [email protected]