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MDC Election Change of Heart

Main opposition agrees to take part in poll, but expects the worst.
By Julius Tonderai

Zimbabwe’s only major opposition party has gone back on its threat to boycott parliamentary elections on March 31, even though its leaders expect the ruling ZANU PF party to engage in violence and fraud and state institutions to make a fair vote impossible.


Grassroots members of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, voted overwhelmingly in favour of participation, arguing that a failure to challenge President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party would put the MDC at risk of becoming politically irrelevant, while leaving an unchallenged ZANU PF free to establish a de facto one-party state.


“It is with a heavy heart that the National Council [of the MDC] has resolved that the MDC will participate in the forthcoming elections,” said the party’s information secretary Paul Nyathi, announcing the decision in Harare on February 3.


“We participate to keep the flames of hope for change alive. This is a decision based primarily on the demands of our people, the working people of Zimbabwe, who wish to exercise their hard-fought and inalienable right of voting and still make a statement against the tyranny of this criminal state.”


But despite the decision to take part in the election, it is clear that the MDC expects the worst. In an interview on February 4, with a South African radio station, MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube said that the National Council was divided about the wisdom of participation.


“It’s impossible at this moment to hold a free and fair election,” he said.” We shall take part under protest and without prejudice.”


Ncube said government violence against the opposition has already begun. Police, he said, are arresting MDC activists who have been distributing pamphlets urging people to check their names on voter rolls.


The names of 800,000 dead Zimbabweans still appear on these registers among a number of other errors that could render void an accurate democratic election on March 31. Another 900,000 people, in an electorate of 5.6 million, listed on the rolls as eligible voters are either not known or do not live at the addresses under which their names appear, according to a report by FreeZim, a local NGO that has done extensive research on the subject.


The group has submitted its report to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, headed by High Court judge George Chiweshe, a close ally of Mugabe. Chiweshe, tasked with running the elections, was appointed only last month and does not yet have offices or staff.


The MDC has also decided to delay beginning its election campaign until just three weeks before the poll when an observer mission from the Southern African Development Community will arrive in Zimbabwe. The MDC believes it will be subjected to extreme violence and intimidation in the absence of observers.


The president has banned all foreign observer missions other than the SADC’s for the election campaign. However, the MDC leadership is deeply sceptical about the integrity of the regional body.


The party’s secretary for economics, Tendai Biti, said that although the fourteen SADC heads of state had last year adopted a set of “fair play” guidelines for the conduct of the elections, they had failed to exert real pressure on Mugabe to implement anything more than cosmetic reforms.


“We are disappointed by the lack of zeal and enthusiasm coming from the region,” said Biti. “ Zimbabweans feel betrayed and let down by the lack of action. We note with regret the failure of the SADC to put the regime on the spot and demand the implementation of fair electoral standards in this country.”


He said there was widespread intimidation by the army and police of MDC supporters; no access for the opposition to the state media; and no right for the opposition to hold meetings of any more than five people, although this restriction was not applied to ZANU PF.


Julius Tonderai is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.


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