Zimbabwe’s political maturity on trial


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The political maturity of Zimbabwe’s aspiring legislators will be put to test tomorrow when candidates submit their nominations for the March 31 parliamentary elections.

After the squabbles that rocked the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during the parties’ primary elections, observers will be watching how many of the disgruntled candidates will have the guts to stand as independents.

The leadership of both parties was accused of imposing candidates, with some sitting MPs in the MDC vowing to stand against the selected candidates, while the ruling party purged all the Young Turks associated with the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration which allegedly opposed the nomination of Joyce Mujuru as Vice-President.

Six ZANU-PF provincial chairmen, some of whom had indicated that they intended to contest the polls and had poured millions of dollars into their campaigns, were suspended from the party and seem to have accepted the decision to bar them.

But there has been speculation that some of the candidates, including Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who had campaigned heavily and put almost everything at stake in their bid to enter into the august House, might decide to stand as independents.

Observers say Moyo hinted on this during his scathing attack on ZANU-PF politburo members Dumiso Dabengwa and John Nkomo, whom he accused of masterminding his ouster from Tsholotsho constituency.

“As to Cdes Nkomo and Dabengwa’s self-indulgent declaration that they will not allow me to contest in Tsholotsho on a ZANU-PF ticket, I wish to respectfully remind them that ZANU-PF is larger than any two or three individuals and any attempts to personalise the party are ultimately bound to fail,” Moyo was quoted by the official The Chronicle daily newspaper as saying.

He added: “In any event, Cdes Nkomo and Dabengwa should know that there is no one ticket to heaven. There are many such tickets and that is why there are many churches and many religions and all with tickets to heaven.”

Political observers are watching closely how many aspiring candidates will seek these alternative routes to “heaven” because they believe very few politicians, especially from the ruling party, have the guts to stand their ground, preferring to back the party as they have been drilled for years to believe that there is no political life outside ZANU PF.

This was amply demonstrated, the observers say, by the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda during the run-up to the 2000 elections when he told voters in Chivi: “Even if we put a baboon in Chivi, if you are ZANU-PF, you vote for that baboon.”

The observers say the same thinking seems to have crept into MDC strongholds, where the calibre of the candidate does not matter as long as one is MDC.

Yet studies indicate that more than 60 percent of Zimbabwean voters do not support either the ruling or opposition parties. Besides, there is a very thin line between the importance of a candidate and that of the party.

According to a study carried out by Afrobarometer last year, 60 percent of Zimbabweans polled declared themselves to be “independent, undecided or apolitical”.

“In an election, their allegiance would be up for grabs by either of the main political parties,” the study said.

Another study carried out by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in February 2002 showed that 34.7 percent of those polled felt that a candidate was more important than the party, while 35.9 percent felt the party was more important than the candidate. Almost a quarter thought the two were equally important.

A survey which will show the current trends will be released in a week or two, but this will be too late to sway the thinking of aspiring candidates sitting on the fence.

With the political stalemate that has bogged down ZANU-PF and the MDC over the last five years, the observers believe that independent Members of Parliament could play a crucial role in keeping both the ruling party and the main opposition on track as they could swing the vote either way.

“There is a feeling that those who have been sidelined should stand as independent candidates because if 20 candidates or more win as independents, this would force the winners to form a government of national unity as the independents can sway the vote either way, by ganging with the ruling party or siding with the opposition,” one of the suspended ZANU-PF politicians said.

A political researcher, however, said Zimbabwe had a chequered history about people standing as independents. Though the trend had started picking up in the 1990s with those who had been kicked out of the ruling party successfully challenging and winning elections – the notable ones being Margaret Dongo and Mutare mayor Lawrence Mudehwe – it had been dealt a severe blow after the formation of the MDC as it provided a strong alternative to ZANU-PF, the researcher said.

But the change that the once vibrant party promised does not seem to have materialised. Even though it was not given any opportunity to sell its programmes to the people, analysts say some of its legislators have done very little during their five-year tenure and are virtually unknown in their constituencies.

 

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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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