THE MDC-Alliance-orchestrated violence that exploded in central Harare on Wednesday does not mar the just completed election, easily the most peaceful and transparent in our young country’s history, since the vast majority of Zimbabweans were not involved, but it damages the credibility of the opposition leadership and proves their unfitness for the national offices they sought in the election unless they can bring their supporters to order promptly.
The police acted rationally and carefully. Although protests were not notified in advance, they took no more action than to prevent disruption of the work of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, following the policy taken throughout the election period where they significantly and to great praise, liberalised their policies on dealing with public gatherings and protest trusting in the essential decency of the public.
It was only when protesters turned violent, assaulting vendors and looting their little stock in trade, smashing shop windows, setting fire to cars and assaulting women and stealing their phones that the police became more active, and even then largely acted to disperse the violent groups rather than trap and arrest them.
Still six protesters died. The President has promised a full inquiry and there might well be grounds for the Chief Justice to be asked to assign a judge to head a general inquiry into the day’s events, dealing with both protests and the police reaction, the final report could well be used in future to help define more precisely the borderline between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a democratic society.
But the whole sorry mess does put the credibility of the leadership of the MDC-Alliance on the line. During the run-up to the election and during the election they showed they could organise their supporters in large peaceful campaigning and so exploit the very large political space that the new administration opened to all for serious political campaigning.
However, many in the same leadership also made statements predicting or even threatening violence if they lost. And that is not acceptable in any democracy. The MDC-Alliance needs to understand what a serious opposition party is expected to do, why it did lose the election and what its role should be now.
Opposition parties need to do far more than just oppose, although obviously if they have a serious difference with the Government that is one role, but not the main one. They first need to show the electorate that they can be a viable alternative government, that the leadership can form an effective Cabinet and that they could run a country if the electorate chose them. Behaving like a bunch of drunk teenagers is exactly what cost the MDC-Alliance such a large defeat on Monday.
While there were ideological differences between Zanu-PF and the MDC-Alliance, the contest was on delivery. Zanu-PF, having got its act together late last year, was able to show it could put together a strong united team, with perhaps too many familiar faces, but still one that could get things moving and start delivering.
The election winners might not be wanted by some voters, but they were trusted more than the schoolboys. Most people vote with their heads, not their hearts and the MDC-Alliance needs to think about that seriously.
The MDC-Alliance now needs to show it can function as a potential governing party, not a student activist mob at a bad university. It must first order its supporters to cool down. Defeat is bitter, but if there are grounds for an electoral challenge then there are the courts, not the streets.
Then it needs to turn itself from a loose alliance of small parties, put together solely to gain power without really explaining how it would then govern and without any structure whatsoever, into a proper party with supporters choosing the leadership. If it wishes to retain Mr Nelson Chamisa as its leader then it must avoid the error made with the late Mr Morgan Tsvangarai who sat at home outside the political process.
The place for the Leader of the Opposition in a Parliamentary democracy is at the Speaker-end of the front opposition bench in the National Assembly, directly opposite the Vice Presidents, with a well-defined shadow cabinet, or party spokesmen on all ministries, filling the rest of the bench and able to question, debate and offer informed and rational alternatives to just about everything the Government suggests.
That would mean that an MDC-Alliance MP in Harare needs to resign so Mr Chamisa can win a by-election and enter Parliament or that another leader already in Parliament needs to be chosen.