By Fungi Kwaramba
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai faces a serious political dilemma as the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections loom — in terms of how to approach, and whether to talk up or down the watershed polls.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the current dispute over the acquisition and deployment of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits ahead of next year’s polls exemplified the difficulties confronting the MDC “because of mutually conflicting” factors.
One of the analysts warned that with time running out, the MDC now needed to decide whether it should keep fighting with authorities over the BVR kits or send messages of hope to the electorate if the party entertained hopes of winning next year’s make-or-break elections.
This comes as the MDC has expressed its outrage over the recent decision by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to award the BVR kits tender to a Chinese firm — which it suspects may be used by the ruling Zanu PF to manipulate the crucial polls.
“Tsvangirai is in a serious quandary because his supporters expect him to thoroughly vet everything that President (Robert) Mugabe’s government does, while on the other hand his criticism of the BVR tender process is likely to discourage his supporters from registering for the polls as they view the MDC complaint as a sign of hopelessness,” a Harare-based political analyst said.
Constitutional law expert and former adviser to Tsvangirai during the inclusive government, Alex Magaisa, also warned that opposition parties had to be strategic in their approach to 2018 if they were not to drive away potential votes through “unwise” public comments.
“The Chinese were always the favourites to win it (BVR kits’ tender) ahead of a Western company. The opposition cannot be surprised by this outcome. They should have seen it coming.
“Although it is disappointing to the opposition, the leaders have to be more strategic and avoid conceding more ground to Zanu PF. The election is as much a mental game as is it physical.
“Voters can only go to the polls if they have some hope. People can only get up to register to vote if there’s hope. It is hope that motivates people to drop important things to go and queue up to register and to vote.
“If there is no hope, they won’t be bothered. Why waste time queuing up to register and to vote when there is no hope of winning?” Magaisa warned in his blog.
“This is why the opposition leaders must invest more in hope and drop their energy-sapping public statements. The more they moan that Zanu PF has rigged the BVR selection process, the less motivated potential voters become. What’s the point of going to register to vote if the process is already rigged?” Magaisa added.
Zec announced on Thursday last week that a Chinese company, Laxton Group, had been awarded the hotly-contested tender to supply Zimbabwe with BVR kits — prompting the MDC to react angrily to the development, claiming that this was designed to benefit Zanu PF in the watershed 2018 polls.
Laxton Group was apparently awarded the tender after it proposed a $3,9 million budget to supply the BVR kits, while another bidder — Demalog Identification Systems of Germany — had charged $5,5 million.
“This (the awarding of the BVR tender to Laxton) is contrary to the recommendation of the political parties that observed the BVR validation process.
“The reasons for the Zec behaviour are manifold. First, it was a clear directive from the so-called State Procurement Board which was appointed by the Zanu PF government.
“Secondly, it is simply the perpetuation of the friendship of Zanu PF and the Communist Party of China. However, the main reason for this unmeritorious award is to discourage our people from registering to vote.
“Zanu PF and Zec do not want Zimbabweans to register in their numbers as this will clearly signal the end of Zanu PF,” MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said as his party questioned the choice of Laxton.
But Magaisa said the MDC and smaller opposition parties needed to justify why they were not happy with the choice of the Chinese firm — warning that Zanu PF was not bothered by claims that the selection process was rigged in favour of the Chinese company.
“There has to be more to demonstrate that the Laxton Group is unfit for the job . . . The issue should be about competence. The idea of dismissing the Laxton Group simply because it is Chinese is lazy.
“One presumes that the opposition parties had experts observing the process. If so, where is that technical report?” Magaisa asked.
“What the MDC and other actors have done so far is to show people the potential land-mines and to fight relentlessly to circumvent those land-mines is quite commendable.
“However, the fight must be accompanied by an equally powerful disclaimer that this is not at all to say people must not vote if the outcome is the least favourable.
“Perhaps the message that must be emphasized is that the war for a free and fair election will be waged but the opposition must also be prepared to face and defeat their opponent in an unfair election, against all odds.
“Politics is the art of the possible . . . if the conditions are not right, the next best option is to win the election by beating apathy and preparing to defend the vote.
“It happened in 2008 for instance and it can happen again. So a message of hope, of the certainty of victory against all odds and the importance of every single vote for that victory to happen must be emphasised while efforts to force a favourable environment continue on another level,” political analyst Maureen Kademaunga told the Daily News.
Another political analyst, Dewa Mavhinga, urged the opposition to continue pushing for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of the elections.
“The opposition should not narrowly criticise the awarding of the BVR tender but must press for comprehensive electoral reforms to level the playing field and facilitate free and fair elections.
“There must be clear electoral reform benchmarks to be met, including having an independent and credible Zec that is depoliticised and demilitarised,” Mavhinga said.
Zimbabwe’s quest to acquire BVR kits earlier this year caused a huge political storm, with opposition parties viewing the government’s involvement in the purchase of the equipment as problematic.
This was after the government suddenly decided to sideline the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from procuring the BVR kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and Mugabe’s stone-broke administration was able to secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million. Daily News