By Tafi Mhaka
It is well within the realm of imagination to believe that a newly-formed political party can win a presidential or parliamentary election.
The MDC nearly did so in the 2000 general poll and the 2002 presidential election.
And in May 2017, roughly 13 months after he had left the Socialist Party, to form a movement named La République En Marche, a 40 year-old politician named Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election with 66.1% of the vote.
So it stands to reason that even without the benefit of considerable financial resources or a lengthy track record, a candidate’s strength of character and policy proposals can drive a new party to power.
Today, more than ever, this rings true as the “MDC” is currently besieged with sharp divisions and considerable uncertainty.
Amid the fallout from a Supreme Court ruling invalidating the appointment of Nelson Chamisa as MDC-T interim president in February 2018, some of his supporters have suggested that he should form his own party and leave a tainted MDC brand to Thokozani Khupe.
Many people, including MDC Alliance secretary-general Chalton Hwende, who stressed that the “MDC leadership was endorsed by the 2.6 million Zimbabweans who voted for President Nelson Chamisa and the teams he leads”, ostensibly believe Chamisa is the engine behind the MDC brand.
Others, however, have gone a step further to claim Chamisa is the actual MDC brand.
Without him, they say, the MDC is nothing.
Yet, whether this unverified estimate is true or not, Chamisa should just go right ahead and form a new party.
For why shouldn’t he?
If he feels that “Zanu-PF agents” have infiltrated the MDC-Alliance, why shouldn’t he, right?
Plus if he finds it difficult or superfluous to his needs to adhere to a fairly normal constitutional demand, such as holding a valid presidential election, Chamisa should, by all means, form a new party.
True, if he finds it difficult to appreciate the strong, empowering efficacy of the rule of law, establishing a party moulded around his jolly persona and loose interpretation of democracy would not be a bad thing.
But should he decide to do that, let him be warned: everyone that values democracy will not give him a free ride.
Should he become the leader of a new entity, the same democratic expectations, observations and condemnations that President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF are subjected to daily, will apply to Chamisa.
In fact, as the leader of a supposedly progressive democratic movement, “we” will hold him to a much higher standard than Mnangagwa.
For example: when it is time to accommodate just and intense criticism, we will expect him to take it in his stride and not threaten to expel party rebels.
When it is time to defend the right to freedom of speech, we will expect him to promote a multiplicity of friendly and aggressive voices.
The new party, come what may, must certainly become a vibrant and broadminded conduit of bold, unrestricted expression and participation.
It must outdo the MDC Alliance’s paltry commitment to organising open leadership contests.
So when it is time to hold an internal election, we will expect Chamisa to promote a spirited and constitutionally sound challenge to his position.
And should he become president of Zimbabwe, that unrelenting scrutiny will be amplified a thousand times.
Indeed, should Chamisa become the president of Zimbabwe, we will expect him to hold credible elections and not serve more than two terms in office.
And here are a few pointers as to the type of progressive presidency expected from Chamisa.
For starters, the massive motorcade Mnangagwa travels in will have to disappear.
One or two decent cars and a few bodyguards will do.
In addition to a small security contingent, Chamisa will be expected to align presidential and ministerial salaries and benefits to what ordinary civil servants earn and live by.
However, much like everyone else, he will get a small, performance-based raise after he turns the economy around.
What’s more, the executive presidency will have to be systemically dismantled.
That would be a decent start.
Anything less and we will come down on him like a tonne of homemade bricks.
This is because the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
Almost forty years of strongman rule are a constant reminder of the dos and don’ts of progressive rule.
So no president coming from the opposition ranks, whoever that might be, will be adulated or feared and no “Ed Pfee” nonsense will be tolerated.
Indeed, when Zanu-PF loses an election and finally stands down, it will truly be a brand new day.
And that is the long and short of it.
As for the maddened masses and “leaders” who stand by Chamisa and have professed their undying allegiance to him: here’s the deal.
If one day he refuses to vacate the presidency: don’t jump ship and form another party – only to return a few years later, again.
That would suck.
And don’t cry foul when you are threatened, spat at and labelled a sell-out for expressing divergent democratic views.
Don’t express surprise when some youth league members pay you a late night visit to knock you out for voicing dissent.
And don’t express remorse after constitutional rule is diminished or suppressed by ruthless and greedy sycophantic party leaders.
Suffice it to say, no leader can possibly stand above the rule of law or supplant the progressive values enshrined in our national constitution.
It really is time to stop defining our democracy through the empty prism of a narrow political goal.
Chamisa is not bigger than Zimbabwe.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.