News and Information

Zanu PF/MDC Battle for Heart of SADC
September 23, 2004
Financial Gazette (Harare)

September 23, 2004
Posted to the web September 23, 2004

Nelson Banya

IN what is shaping up to be an unlikely prelude to next year's parliamentary elections, the country's biggest political parties, the ruling ZANU PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are battling for the heart and soul of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of states.

The regional bloc has of late been seeking to assert itself on democracy and governance issues.

While political temperatures were always going to rise in the country in the run-up to next March's polls, events in recent weeks have shown that while a tepid atmosphere, wrought by pervasive uncertainty, currently envelopes the country, the two bitter adversaries have raised the ante in courting regional states.

From the ZANU PF point of view, SADC endorsement of both the electoral reforms and the voting process itself is key to retaining legitimacy, following the hotly contested results of the 2000 parliamentary poll as well as the presidential plebiscite two years later.

There were 39 contested results from the 120 constituencies, while the result of the presidential election is also being contested in the courts.

The MDC, on the other hand, is eager to have regional pressure bear on President Robert Mugabe's government to even the playing field before next year's election, knowing full well that another defeat will further compound the pessimism among the ranks of its supporters.

A recent Afrobarometer survey conducted by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, in conjunction with Ghana's Centre for Democratic Development and Michigan State University, found "evidence of popular resignation to ZANU PF's dominance", as opposed to the euphoria of four years ago when regime change via the ballot box seemed inevitably imminent.

Further, the survey found that more prospective voters were inclined to trust the incumbent government and ruling party more than the opposition.

It is against this background and for the different reasons that the MDC and ZANU PF have gone on a concerted regional onslaught - the former by actively engaging SADC heads and diplomats and the latter through granting concessions, in the form of the proposed electoral changes, which got the bloc's approval at the Mauritius summit last month.

A team of high-ranking MDC officials - vice president Gibson Sibanda, secretary general Welshman Ncube and his understudy Gift Chimanikire - were in South Africa over the weekend to meet President Thabo Mbeki, whose position as a regional power broker was dealt a body blow by the failure by the Zimbabwean political parties to respond positively to his much-maligned quiet diplomacy and reach an entente.

MDC teams have regularly met the South African leader, meetings which, despite not bringing much tangible progress, have not done their diplomatic standing any harm.

Ncube was quoted in the media as saying the MDC was considering mass action to push the Harare officials to enact genuine electoral reforms that would ensure fair polls.

Party president Morgan Tsvangirai also recently met SADC diplomats accredited to Harare and told them that disputed elections were at the heart of Zimbabwe's crisis, which has caused fears in neighbouring states of a full-blown humanitarian and refugee disaster.

"For the SADC region, you have a responsibility to ensure all member states, Zimbabwe included, adhere to the latest protocols. The future of the region rests on how seriously agreed positions are implemented and seen as binding," Tsvangirai told the diplomats.

ZANU PF, on the other hand, sorely needs SADC approval of the electoral process.

The ruling party has always harped on about African institutions giving the hotly contested elections in 2000 and 2002 the thumbs-up.

SADC itself has recently warned that not only will it withhold its seal of approval from irregular elections, but, according to Mbeki, will expel states that failed to adhere to the recently adopted common norms.

As a result, the SADC mark of approval is indispensable to ZANU PF, which, however, has sought to appease the regional bloc by making concessions, which only a few months ago appeared outlandish on the Zimbabwean political terrain.

The electoral reform Bill the government is currently pushing in Parliament will see the establishment of an independent electoral commission, although this is one of the major bones of contention, as the opposition says it cannot be independent if the executive, and not Parliament, makes key appointments to the body.

Other changes would see the holding of polls in a single day at neutral centres and the use of translucent ballot boxes, among other reforms.

The MDC has, however, dismissed these proposals as cosmetic changes and challenged ZANU PF to make further far-reaching reforms such as repealing the notorious Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which have been used to close down democratic space to the detriment of the opposition and the benefit of the ruling party.

The leading opposition party recently suspended taking part in any election until the government enacts reforms paving way for a fair contest.

Political commentator Heneri Dzinotyiwei said the diplomatic overtures by the MDC would ensure constant monitoring, by the SADC, of developments unfolding in Zimbabwe.

"It is only a few weeks after the inter-state body adopted the electoral standards . . . they will continue to watch the developments.

"The MDC is concerned about the environment prior to and during elections and they will do anything they see as feasible to see that elections are held in the right environment. It is part of the campaign, actually," Dzinotyiwei said.

SADC will certainly keep its focus trained on Zimbabwe in the next few months to see if the country, a fading regional giant in terms of economic performance, bucks the trend which has seen it regress into yet another African nightmare.

Multinational development agencies have repeatedly warned of negative spillover effects on Zimbabwe's neighbours should the crisis remain unresolved or deteriorate further.

In the meantime, the major protagonists in Zimbabwe's political game will have to look back in and confront an electorate that has gone through virtually all the phases of disenchantment.


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