Next year’s elections are so crucial that opposition parties should not boycott them because the ruling ZANU-PF, which is desperate to give President Robert Mugabe a noble exit, could impose a new president without having to wait for 2008 if it wins a two-thirds majority, an opposition leader said at the weekend.
Speaking at the first debate series on next year’s elections entitled: “Election Participation and Boycott Theories”, organised by a Bulawayo trust, Bulawayo Agenda, Zimbabwe African People’s Union- Federal Party (ZAPU-FP) leader, Paul Siwela said the elections were going to be linked to the exit of President Robert Mugabe who has been in power since 1980.
“Let’s go in because ZANU-PF has problems too. Let’s take advantage of the situation because if we boycott the elections, the 2008 president will be elected by parliament and not by the electorate. If ZANU-PF wins a majority they will impose a new president on the people,” Siwela said.
Siwela was responding to a question on why he was advocating for participating in the elections when his party had lost dismally. ” No opposition party did well,” Siwela argued. ” If any opposition party had done well they would be in power topday and we would not be having this discussion.”
“Politics is not like the Olympics,” he said. “In the Olympics if you come second, you are given a silver medal. In politics, if you come second, you go into oblivion. We are not in oblivion.”
Siwela’s views were shared by war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda who said ZANU-PF wanted to beat the opposition in an election rather than through a walk over. He said the ruling party was not just aiming for a two-third majority but for a clean sweep so that it could go ahead with the development of the country without any hindrance.
He brushed off demands by Movement for Democratic Change secretary general Welshman Ncube and National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku that elections should only be held when the playing field had been levelled and the country had a new constitution.
Ncube said the MDC was not advocating boycotting the elections at this stage but wanted some key demands to be met to allow free and fair elections. Some of the key issues were that there should be an independent electoral commission, voting should be carried out in one day and counting should take place at the polling stations.
Ncube, who was backed by the party’s secretary for legal affairs, David Coltart, said the party would prepare for the elections and would only make a decision closer to the elections if its demands had not been met.
In a newsletter to his constituency, Coltart expounded on this view which he said had been agreed to by the party including party president Morgan Tsvangirai. The party had agreed that it must separate its preparations for the elections and the decision whether or not to participate.
“A soccer team must practise as hard as possible prior to a match and the decision whether to play or not must only be made shortly before the match once the team has considered the state of the ground and who the referee is,” Coltart said in the newsletter. “The same applies to the election. We must as a party practise and prepare as hard as possible in the run up to the election. Everyone has a role to play. Closer to the time when the election is due to be held, we can then assess whether we should participate (or not).”
Siwela brushed off the argument about free and fair elections claiming that Zimbabwe had never had free and fir elections since 1980. It was therefore mischievous to give the impression that only the 2000 and 2002 elections were not free and fair. This prompted some member of the audience to accuse Siwela and his party of being an extension of the ruling party, which he denied.
Madhuku said Siwela’s attitude was defeatist because if things had been done wrongly in the past they should not continue to be done wrongly. He said the NCA was not calling for an election boycott but for a new constitution.
“What we are saying is that we need a new constitution. If we do not get that new constitution by the time of the elections, we will continue to demand for a new constitution. This is a process. But we will urge people not to vote if there is no new constitution,” he said.
Sibanda said any new constitution should be drawn up by parliament and not by individuals. Since Ncube and Coltart were Members of Parliament they should use that platform to amend the constitution. Coltart said he had already tried this in vain. There was no way the opposition could beat ZANU-PF at the moment because the President appointed 30 members who gave his party a distinct and unfair advantage.
Sibanda was accompanied by a group of cheerleaders who booed every time Coltart took the platform forcing the organisers of the even to plead with the audience to respect the speakers and views of other people.