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CODE and the prospects of dislodging Zanu-PF

By Vivid Gwede

On Tuesday, May 31, 2016, a group of opposition parties announced a coalition pact which they code-named the Coalition of Democrats (CODE) with a view to presenting a united opposition front at the 2018 elections.

Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube
Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube

In this submission, I attempt to show the relevance of the move from different angles.

To begin with, the signing ceremony by the five political parties puts back on the agenda, even with a slight step towards implementation, a partial solution to the construction of a viable challenge to Zanu-Pf’s hegemony.

Partial solution because there are many things involved, which I will not delve into, except to point out that one of them is the requirement for free and fair elections.

The route of an opposition coalition has been suggested by the opposition parties, the electorate and the political commentariat, seeing that the opposition ranks have grown fragmented greatly after the 2013 election and even prior to that.

What has been lacking is the crucial step of attempting to actualise that option of a grand coalition.

This is when we consider that the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) document signed by 15 opposition parties in December 2015 limited itself to be a collective front for pushing for freer and fairer polls.

The reality of a fragmenting opposition has made the chances of dislodging the ruling party increasingly circumscribed, given other issues to do with unfair electoral manoeuvring against the opposition.

Although the fragmentation itself necessitates a coalition as mentioned above, it also presents its own challenges to the mechanics of putting together that coalition in terms of  American political scientist Harold Lasswell’s question of “who gets what, when and how,” regarding the fielding of electoral candidates and sharing spoils in the event of a victory.

Notwithstanding that a coalition such as the CODE may be beneficial in the crude and non-ideological sense of wrestling power, its points of weaknesses are glaring even in that power-wrestling remit.

As a starting point, it has to be mentioned that a coalition will not just present a formidable challenge to Zanu-PF and be successful simply because it is a coalition.

It has to have bigger components by way of constituent opposition parties to have a bigger impact.

Five relatively smaller parties are represented in CODE which are: the Democratic Assembly for Restoration of the Economy (DARE), MDC-N, Mavambo Khusile Dawn (MKD), Renewal Democrats, and Zimbabwe United for Democracy (ZUNDE).

While these parties must be commended for moving matters beyond just talks about talks of a coalition, a typically successful coalition will have few but bigger opposition parties.

In short, if opposition parties coalesce away from, or without the MDC-T, two things are obvious: (1) the coalition becomes a non-event as far as removing Zanu-Pf from power; and (2) such a coalition will even achieve the opposite of its objectives, and perpetuate Zanu-PF’s underperforming longevity by dividing the opposition vote in 2018.

What it means is that the absence of the MDC-T, ZimPF, PDP, Zapu, and NCA greatly limits the CODE in whatever it can achieve.

But it provides a cue for these parties outside the agreement to either form a coalition amongst themselves, or join to broaden the CODE.

However maintaining the current fragmentation will certainly leave vast room for Zanu-Pf to maintain its hegemony beyond 2018.

Like this writer has submitted elsewhere in his writings, a coalition can realistically break a dangerous and development-inhibiting hegemony by a single political party ruling for decades, like the All Progressives Congress coalition did in Nigeria in the March 2015 elections won by three-time presidential aspirant, Muhammad Buhari.

The reader will notice that the article does not touch on the potential unavoidable limitations of a multi-party ruling coalition in terms of possible policy and ideological confusion.

In  any case, the formation of an opposition coalition will always be a realist rather than an idealist option.

The understanding is that Zimbabwe will need to first break the barrier of a hegemonic under-performing regime, using a strategy anchored on democratic incrementalism rather than pursuing a short cut transition that seeks to achieve everything – from democratic transition, fair elections, and economic turnaround in one fell swoop.

Furthermore, it can be shown that most of these opposition parties are not in fact, professing radically different ideological persuasions as they all variously tend towards the liberal democratic tradition.

In fact, they have been fractionated in form, seldom in substance.

In conclusion, while the formation of CODE this week is a realist rather than idealist position, which has its good potential towards breaking Zanu-Pf’s under-performing hegemony, it is seriously limited in its strength by the exclusion/absence/boycott of key opposition parties.

Vivid Gwede is an independent social and political commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.