Who really wants elections in Zimbabwe?


Who really wants elections in Zimbabwe? This is a question no one has ever asked despite the persistent calls that the country should have elections to solve the current “impasse” between the three parties in the inclusive government.

 One thing is clear. It is definitely not the average Zimbabwean, who plays a crucial role in any election as the voter, that is calling for elections. It is definitely not any of the three parties that are in the inclusive government that is calling for these elections. It is outsiders, who are somehow, under the impression that the elections will produce an outright winner who can then take over the government. And one gets the impression that they think they know which winner this is going to be.

But for most Zimbabweans, apart from the so-called squabbling among the parties in government, which is more of public posturing than anything else, the present set-up seems to be the best solution, at least for the time being. They want things to settle down and wounds to heal. They want some assurance that there will be no violence this time. Besides, what is the point of having elections if the will of the people will not be respected?

The inclusive government gives the nation a chance to breathe. It gives people time to reflect on what has gone so wrong with their beloved country and its normally peace-loving people. It increases transparency because each of the three parties in government is trying to outwit the other to sell itself to the electorate and gain credibility so that it can win the vote at the next elections.

So where is the trouble coming from? From quarters that are not happy with the present set up. From quarters that pretend they have the interests of Zimbabweans when deep down all they want is to protect their own interests. From quarters that have personalised the Zimbabwean problem and are trying to make Zimbabweans believe that nothing good can ever be achieved as long as Robert Mugabe is in government, not necessarily in power, but in government. From quarters that claim Zimbabweans have the right to choose their own destiny but at the same time repeatedly tell them that they know what is best for them.

And whose interests are they serving? Their own! Not those of Zimbabweans. But it would be too crude to say so wouldn’t it? So, they hide behind the cloak that all that they are doing is in the interests of Zimbabweans. All they are doing is to create the right political environment to allow Zimbabweans to exercise their right. But like the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front used to say during its hey-days, they are also saying people must know where to put their vote.

This arrogance, which smacks of the colonial thinking that former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith used to brag about that he was denying the people majority rule because it was not good for them and he was there to preserve civilised standards, is beginning to put some people off. One Zimbabwean who appeared to be pissed off by this naked arrogance remarked: “Inyasha dzei dzokuti iwe uri muenzi, asi ndiwe worwadziwa kupinda vafirwa.” (How can an unrelated mourner become more aggrieved than members of the bereaved family?)

Leonard Kapungu, executive director of the Vumba-based Centre for Peace Initiatives in Africa says elections are not the answer to Zimbabwe’s problems. Kapungu, who worked for the United Nations for 30 years and headed several peace missions before retiring, says the inclusive government has given the people of Zimbabwe a lot of hope. Elections should, therefore, be avoided at all costs until the country has achieved national reconciliation.

“If we have elections now, those elections will be violent. Elections will not solve any of the unresolved issues, instead they could cause more problems,” he argued.

Arthur Mutambara leader of the third but smaller partners in the inclusive government has been adamant that there will not be any elections any time soon. His remarks have been scoffed at because people say he is trying to protect his position because he knows fully well he will be out at the next elections. After all he lost in the last elections and does not have anyone’s mandate in the present government.

Mugabe has said that elections will be held next year but no one is taking him seriously either. Most people believe he just said that to hoodwink the people into believing that he was ready for elections when he was not. In fact, they argue that he is stalling the reform process because he does not want any elections because he is going out at the next elections.

The only person that seems to have credibility is therefore Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. His party wants elections. At least, that is what they are telling the public. One senator has even said they are ready for the elections any time. Tsvangirai told diplomats and donors in Pretoria that the elections will be held next year. This is contained in his written speech that was circulated to the media. But one had to be in Pretoria to appreciate the real situation. I was.

The speech that was circulated to the media was meant for diplomats and civil society. Although members of the media were allowed in this session, they were asked to make an undertaking that they would not report on what was said during that closed session. One reporter who started asking questions during the session was reminded that this was a closed session. A press conference was going to be held after that session.

Tsvangirai’s statement had therefore to be taken in context. This was politics. He wanted to soften the diplomats and civic society because they were meeting in four days to decide whether to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe or not and whether to give the country development aid as opposed to humanitarian aid only. He was aware that they wanted to be assured that the country would be holding elections which to them mean one thing- Mugabe out. But no one paid attention to one of the conditions he mentioned.

To quote from his speech, Tsvangirai said: “And fortunately, one of the things which President Mugabe and I do agree on is that those elections need to happen next year. The main purpose of this marriage of convenience therefore is to get us (to) embark on a roadmap to those elections without a return to violence, and to ensure foolproof ground rules are laid and above all that they are free and fair and (the) vote is secured and respected.” But he went on: “With enough active support from our friends in the region, I believe that this is possible.”

At the press conference two hours later Tsvangirai refused at least four times to be pinned down on a date for elections insisting that the constitutional reform process had to take place first. When more pressure was put on him, he said he could not announce a date because, as he had said, that decision had to be made by two people, Mugabe and him, so he could not give any date since Mugabe was not there.

Tsvangirai also said something that was very startling. It was that the inclusive government had decided that the constitutional reform process was too important to be funded by any external organisation as this was an issue of sovereignty. Sovereignty is Mugabe’s language, but here was Tsvangirai saying the very words one would have expected from Mugabe and not him.

This raises crucial questions. If Zimbabwe is determined to fund its own constitutional reform process, does it have the money to carry out the exercise and on time? If Zimbabwe is determined to fund its own constitutional reform process, that also means it will fund the referendum and it will also fund the elections. Does it have the money? But more importantly, are voters more interested in who should be in power when hospitals have no medicines, roads are unrepaired, children have no textbooks?

Tsvangirai seemed to have the answer to that question as well: “Of course, coming back – and staying back – from the brink is not just about securing democratic reforms,” he told the diplomats in Pretoria. “My party was also elected to turn around the failing economy and to start to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of Zimbabwe.”

So what will come first, elections or fulfilling this mandate?


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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