MY TURN WITH TICHAONA ZINDOGA
On Monday we woke up to a screaming headline in an opposition-leaning newspaper that told us that the MDC-Alliance had given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission an ultimatum of 24 hours to address “demands for transparency in the printing of ballot material” by end of business on the day.
MDC-Alliance leader and presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa threatened to mobilise the opposition party’s supporters to picket at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) head office until July 30.
The paper quoted MDC-Alliance co-principal Tendai Biti claiming that they had started mobilising mobile toilets and tents for the thousands of opposition supporters expected to participate in the vigil.
Said Biti: “We will be leading from the front, we will be living on the streets. We are not going to allow this election to be stolen. They can kill us. We are prepared to die for free, fair and credible elections. We have given ZEC a deadline and if they don’t address the issues raised in the petition by Monday, then we will be living on the streets.”
The combative politician was further quoted: “We have said this over and over again, there will be no voting. Some people talk about us boycotting the election, I don’t know where they get that. We are not boycotting, there will be no election.”
On the other hand, Chamisa had insisted at a rally in Macheke Stadium, Masvingo that there would be no elections if ZEC did not meet his grouping’s key demands — transparency in the printing of the ballot papers and security of the votes.
“We have to agree on the ballot paper. We say no to a bond ballot, a fake ballot which is pre-determined, but we want a ballot that we all agree on. So ZEC is joking when it says they have finished printing the ballot paper. We say to hell with that. We are going to the poll after agreeing on a proper ballot paper,” NewsDay quoted Chamisa as saying.
Before an analysis of this promise of a winter of discontent by the opposition can be made and fully explored, it is crucial to update the reader that as of yesterday, the opposition had somewhat backed down on its ultimatum.
Chamisa said that he was giving ZEC another week or so ultimatum.
This deferment could be down to two things: that Chamisa has seen that there is no real passion among Zimbabweans to picket or that his handlers in and outside of the country — as we will reveal in this paper — may have advised otherwise.
It is crucial to understand the context in which Chamisa and MDC-Alliance are making threats to picket ZEC — an independent constitutional body mandated to administer elections in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is going to an election in less than a fortnight.
It is an election that the opposition alliance is likely to lose because of a number of reasons, key among them being the strength and capacity of the ruling party, Zanu-PF; the maturity of its leader and the promise of stability and economic revival under the steady stewardship of President Mnangagwa.
Cold and objective analysis sees President Mnangagwa having an edge over his main rival, and academics and think tanks have affirmed this.
On the other hand, Chamisa — a rookie politician — leading a weak and organically less complex outfit, has not impressed on convictions that he is the safest pair of hands to lead a country in historical transition like Zimbabwe.
These differences — the gulf of class, experience and suavity between President Mnangagwa and Chamisa — have been telling.
It is also worth remarking that Zanu-PF has had a perceptible leap in popularity, particularly in formerly opposition strongholds in urban areas.
Indeed, it should not surprise were one to find that the two major political parties will stand toe-to-toe in some constituencies in Harare or Bulawayo.
There has been that seismic shift in political attitudes.
In their moments of honesty, the MDC-Alliance hawks know that the battle has been lost — by themselves — and won, by their main rivals.
This realisation has led to spirited efforts to at best discredit the process and worst to disrupt the same.
(Biti, for example, should know that he is losing in Harare East, to a man — two men, actually — he may not think highly of whether politically or professionally. He may not even come second best, hence his insistence on making a zero sum game to the death.)
The two-pronged approach involves on one hand attempts at discrediting both the institution of ZEC and the personality of its chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba.
It is remarkable though that attacks on ZEC and Justice Chigumba are flimsy and unlikely to face any test of law and analytic rigour.
First, the MDC-Alliance has not significantly or substantially challenged the voters’ roll, a key document in the process.
By now, they should have poked holes on the credibility of the register which would throw the whole process into a crisis — especially after making such impassioned calls for it.
The voters’ roll is clean and usable in a credible election.
On the question of the ballot paper — regarding its quality and layout — the MDC-Alliance has not made a compelling argument or test to back its wayward claims of mutating ballots neither have they ever attempted to answer how a literate country like Zimbabwe would be influenced by the position of their preferred candidates on the layout of the ballot paper.
Outside of these questions, the opposition has resorted to cheap, populist and irrational claims about ZEC.
Read Nelson Chamisa’s comment on ballot papers again.
He says, “no to a bond ballot, a fake ballot which is pre-determined”.
This of course, does not make sense, and should not come from the mouth of a presidential aspirant, but from a careless bar talker.
Chamisa has been speaking like this all season.
Those sympathetic to him say it is connecting with the crowd and speaking their language (which suggests a very poor view of supposedly literate Zimbabwean populace.)
He has lost the respect of some quarters, by that very dint.
Now Chamisa wants to rally Zimbabweans into a winter of discontent based on such wishy-washy narrative.
Something tells me that this will not hold.
Equally, seeking to drag Justice Chigumba through the mud — which the MDC-Alliance and its new converts from the G40 era are seeking to do — will not be enough to delegitimise the process.
Which leaves the option of disrupting the whole process by — most probably — physically trying to stop people from voting.
It will take a lot of faith and muscle to do that.
That is possibly why the MDC-Alliance will need hand-holding from foreigners who are now known to be invested in the plan.
It then gives us interesting permutations.
However, it is safe to bet that MDC-Alliance will not be able to muster any significant winter of discontent.
There are very few compelling reasons for it.
People know their choices and are willing to move on after July 30.
It will also be crucial to know that outside of the Dutch courage being exhibited by Chamisa and co, Zimbabweans will keep their cool heads and not buy into an improbable winter of discontent.