Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

A Tough Call

MDC’s decision to contest the elections was one of the hardest it has had to make.
By Professor Welshman

Making tough choices is part and parcel of politics. The decision by the MDC National Council, at an extraordinary meeting on February 3, to reverse its earlier refusal to participate in the elections and enter the fray under protest, was the toughest decision the MDC leadership has had to make since its birth five years ago.


The MDC’s executive had said last August that the party would suspend participation in the elections pending the Zimbabwe government’s full compliance with the Southern African Development Community’s newly adopted protocol on Guidelines and Principles Governing Democratic Elections.


At the time, the MDC retained a degree of optimism that President Robert Mugabe would act in the interests of Zimbabwe and the SADC region and honour undertakings he had given to other regional leaders to bring Zimbabwe’s electoral framework and political environment into line with the new SADC standards.


Regrettably our optimism proved unfounded. Mugabe and his ZANU PF government remain uninterested in extending to Zimbabweans the rights and freedoms enjoyed by our brothers and sisters across the SADC region. The reforms that have been introduced are cosmetic and self-serving and fail to properly address democratic deficits that preclude the possibility of a truly free and fair election.


The intransigence of the Zimbabwe government on the issue of comprehensive electoral and democratic reform made boycotting the elections a compelling option for the MDC leadership.


Decisions in the MDC, however, are not made by individuals at the top operating in isolation – but in consultation with the party’s structures. Decision-making is a collective exercise. The party leadership is guided by what the people on the ground want and acts in accordance with their wishes.


Since the announcement last August to suspend participation in elections, the MDC leadership has travelled to every corner of Zimbabwe canvassing views from our structures and from civil society organisations on the issue of election participation. We have held district assembly meetings in all of Zimbabwe’s 120 districts and held provincial assembly meetings in all twelve provinces. Each district and each province was asked to submit resolutions to the National Council stating their views. The resolutions that were submitted were overwhelmingly in favour of participation.


All the various constituencies that make up the MDC expressed similar reasons for wanting to participate in the elections. The businessmen we spoke to in Masvingo, the unemployed youth we spoke to in Chipinge, the factory workers we spoke to in Harare and the ex-farm workers we spoke to in rural parts of Manicaland all expressed their desire to exercise their inalienable right to vote, regardless of the negative democratic conditions on the ground.


Amongst our working class support base the determination to see the implementation of RESTART, the MDC’s economic policy agenda for job creation and sustainable economic recovery, appeared to strengthen their resolve to take part in the elections. RESTART rejects the neo-liberal approach to economic development and focuses on the need to create a more socially cohesive society in which there is equal opportunity for all and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth.


The manner in which the decision to participate was made is indicative of the subordination of the MDC leadership to the internal democratic processes of the party when it comes to decision-making.


It also reflects the unity of purpose which binds the MDC and which has enabled it to overcome everything which has been thrown at it by ZANU PF over the past five years. Without this unity of purpose the MDC would have disappeared from the political map and become another historical footnote.


Contrary to the accusations of our critics, both inside and outside the country, this unity of purpose is not based solely on the objective of replacing the current government. It is a plural phenomenon, rooted in the MDC’s civic society origins. The MDC evolved out of civil society, in particular the labour movement, and was formed in direct response to the failure of the government to address pressing socio-economic grievances.


The political and socio-economic context in which the MDC was born means the party is very much a broad church, consisting of a wide range of constituencies ranging from labour, youth and women to business. We are the leaders of the social liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.


There is a perception that the MDC’s diversity is its achilles heel, paralysing efforts to formulate a common programme. Nothing could be further from the truth. The various constituencies that make up the MDC are united in their collective desire to not only usher in a new beginning but also to build a new Zimbabwe based on the social democratic values of solidarity, social justice, freedom, democracy, equity and equality.


It is this shared vision of the future, and the ideological principles on which it will be based, that binds the MDC together.


The forthcoming elections offer a glimmer of hope for change. We will, however, remain vigilant of the ruling party’s capacity for electoral malpractice. If conditions on the ground deteriorate, extinguishing all glimmer of hope, we have reserved the right to take corrective measures.


Professor Welshman Ncube is Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change in Harare.


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