Zimbabwe’s 18 opposition parties under the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) umbrella are planning to hold more street protests this coming Saturday, 17 September 2016. The opposition parties are now using street protests as a substitute for implementing democratic reforms. An ill-advised substitute and a very dangerous one at that!
“We are going ahead with or without their blessing or permission. We have the law in our favour and we are not going to negotiate the law with Mr Mugabe,” said MDC-T Secretary General, Douglas Mwonzora.
“This Saturday we are organising 210 demonstrations throughout the country to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to accept reforms,” said Jacob Ngarivhuma, the leader of Transform Zimbabwe, one of the opposition parties in the NERA grouping.
“We are going to continue fighting. This is the language they understand.”
Whilst Mr Mwonzora is right that the opposition parties have a constitutional right to hold peaceful demonstrations we all know, however, that the street protests will NOT be peaceful. The very fact that the regime has already banned the demos means the authorities will be going out, armed to the teeth, determined to stop the demos. Meanwhile the protesters will be going out itching for a fight.
So strictly speaking, Mr Ngarivhuma, violent confrontation is the language both the Zanu PF regime and opposition parties speak and understand. President Mugabe has often boasted of holding “several degrees in violence”. For their part, the opposition parties have failed to explain what reforms they wanted implemented in any of the accepted languages be it English, Shona, Ndebele or whatever and are therefore resorting to the language of violent street protests!
Since the rigged July 2013 elections, MDC-T has been calling for electoral reforms in which all the country’s existing laws are “realigned” to bring them in line with Zimbabwe’s 2013 new constitution. Veritas, a local Zimbabwean group of experts on legal matter, has carried out a thorough analysis and concluded that even with the best political will in the world the realignment alone will not be enough to deliver free, fair and credible elections.
The trouble is with the new constitution itself, it is too weak and feeble to deliver free and fair elections. This is not surprising given the constitution was a product of the “horse trading” between Zanu PF and MDC, as Trevor Ncube rightly pointed out.
For the country to have free, fair and credible elections we need to implement far reaching structural reforms such allowing parliament to have meaningful oversight on the appointing and firing of ZEC officials to ensure the body’s independence, for example.
The continued call by opposition leaders for “ZEC to accept reforms” is proof these people really have no clue what the democratic reforms are about, the process of getting the reforms implemented, etc. In 2015 Douglas Mwonzora assured the nation that MDC-T will have forced Zanu PF “kicking and screaming” to implement all electoral reforms by the end of that year. Yet here we are, nearly two years later, and still not even one meaningful reform has been implemented of course.
Meanwhile Zanu PF has already been implementing its own meaningless reforms and making a big song and dance about it. VP Mnangagwa, who is also the Minister of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, has already had an amendment bill designed to bring most of the country’s laws into line with the new constitution passed into law. As far as know, MDC-T, the only opposition party with MPs and senators, did not submit any counter proposals to the bill. A very familiar story with MDC; the party did not submit not even one democratic reform proposal in parliament throughout the five years of the GNU and yet that was supposed to be their principal task.
Ever since parliament passed the law aligning all existing laws to the new constitution the pressure has shifted to MDC-T and their NERA friend to not just ask for electoral reforms but to spell out the chapter and verse of the law and even say word for word they want changed. This is clearly something MDC-T and its NERA friends are not prepared to do and by shifting emphasis from reforms to street protests they are hoping no one will ever ask them about reforms!
So instead of fighting for free and fair elections in parliament by submitting alternative amendments to ensure the existing laws are properly aligned to the new constitution or in the Constitutional Court by submitting legal challenge for failure deliver this key individual right to free and meaningful vote; MDC-T want to fight for free and fair elections in the streets!
It is all very well for the party leaders like Mwonzora, Tsvangirai and Biti to take the fighting into the street, they will be will be calling on their supporters to fight back, if attached by either Zanu PF thugs or the Police. The leaders always drive back to their secure homes in the low density suburbs or sometimes even hide for a few weeks in the Netherland Embassy, as Tsvangirai once did, if the situation gets too hot. The ordinary people are not so lucky; it is them who will be fighting the running battles with the Riot Police and who will be visited by Zanu PF thugs in the dead of night!
It is a historic fact that if MDC leaders had not sold-out during the GNU and implemented all the democratic reforms; Zimbabwe would have had free, fair and credible elections in July 2013 and we would be well on our way to rebuilding the nation and not still tuck in this economic and political hell-hole.
It is a historic fact too that if any of our opposition leaders had learnt anything from Tsvangirai and his fellow MDC leaders’ blundering incompetence during the GNU then none of them would have wasted the nation’s time calling for the wishy-washy NERA. They would not be seeking a violent confrontation with Zanu PF knowing what the regime did in 2008!
Zanu PF is already under a lot of pressure from the worsening economic situation to accept meaningful political change. President Mugabe would have been forced to accept change if he was presented with a well thought-out list of democratic reforms. As long as no meaningful reforms are implemented, no reforms will ever be implemented by street protests, Zanu PF will have the chance to rig the vote and stay in power.
If we want to have free, fair and credible elections then we must implement the democratic reforms. We must not allow ourselves to be misled by those who have failed to implement even one reform even when they had the golden opportunity to do so during the GNU into believing street protests are a substitute to reforms.