MDC says free and fair election impossible, but it's participating in by-elections
By Lebo Nkatazo
OPPOSITION leader Morgan Tsvangirai faced accusations of “vacillating and flip-flopping” last night after it emerged his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party will field candidates in three parliamentary by-elections being held simultaneously as a presidential election runoff, which he is boycotting, on Friday.
Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff on Sunday, accusing President Robert Mugabe of “waging war” against his supporters and disrupting his campaign. At least 80 of his supporters had been killed, he said.
“Zanu PF has set up over 3000 militia bases across the length and breath of the country in order to cow and intimidate MDC supporters into submission,” Tsvangirai said on Sunday. “Death and hit squads are on the loose in all the provinces.”
But New Zimbabwe.com can reveal that the MDC has not pulled out of the three by-elections in Redcliff (Midlands Province), Pelandaba-Mpopoma (Bulawayo Province) and Gwanda South (Matabeleland South Province), prompting one political commentator to ask if the three constituencies were “islands of peace”.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa claimed last night that the three by-elections --which could not be held during general elections on March 29 because of the death of candidates from a rival MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara -- were “not part of the current impasse”.
“The current dispute is located in the context of the presidential election which could not be resolved on March 29,” Chamisa said. “The MDC has only pulled out of the presidential run-off and not the by-elections.”
The MDC spokesman claimed “different conditions are obtaining where these elections are concerned”, adding: “We will only take a position on the by-elections if our candidates on the ground raise serious concerns. The candidates have not complained so the party will not pull out of the by-elections unnecessarily.”
The MDC has been battling resentment from some of its supporters at home who feel the decision to pull out of the runoff was ill-thought out and a betrayal of those who have been killed or subjected to brutal attacks by President Mugabe’s shock troops.
Professor Jonathan Moyo, an independent MP who had an electoral pact with the MDC not to field a candidate in his Tsholotsho North constituency on March 29, said it was Tsvangirai’s “most unwise decision that he has ever made”. “There is a danger that by pulling out, Tsvangirai has dug a political grave for himself,” he added.
And on Wednesday night, legal analyst and New Zimbabwe.com columnist Dr Alex Magaisa said the decision to boycott the presidential runoff and still participate in the House of Assembly ballot was increasingly becoming a “sticky wicket for the MDC”.
“My wish is that the MDC could take a decision as a matter of principle, hold steadfast to it and not appear to waver of flip-flop,” he said.
“Refusing to participate in the run-off was an honourable and respectable decision in the circumstances, the chief effect of which is to delegitimise the Mugabe presidency. But I am not sure one can make a clean separation between elections in three diverse constituencies and the presidential election which is tainted by the violence and intimidation.
“There is a suggestion here that these three constituencies are islands of peace where the parliamentary elections can proceed and not the presidential election.”
The MDC’s desire to field candidates in the three constituencies would appear to be borne out of a fear of giving ground to Zanu PF which lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in March. It now has 97 MPs to MDC Tsvangirai’s 99. The Mutambara-led MDC has six seats and one is held by Moyo.
Had the MDC-Tsvangirai opted out, the seats would have been mopped up by either MDC Mutambara or Zanu PF. None of the parties has a majority to pass legislation, but it is assumed the opposition parties will vote as a bloc.
Magaisa observed that Tsvangirai, who demanded on Wednesday
that MPs and senators be sworn in, could also face further hurdles in
his bid to cast Mugabe as an illegitimate leader should the swearing-in
follow his largely pyrrhic but vital victory in Friday’s runoff.
“That is the function of the Clerk of Parliament. Mugabe’s function would be to officially open parliament after the swearing in ceremony. Remember parliament has a life of its own. A life that is separate from the life of Mugabe. While Mugabe has not been elected by the people, legislators have been popularly elected by the people. If Mugabe ignores, dissolves or abuses parliament he will be violating the will of the people. That is called dictatorship and we will cross the bridge when get there,” Chamisa said.
The messages from the MDC do not tally, Magaisa said.
“It is true that the Clerk, not the President, swears in parliamentarians. But it would be dishonest not to have regard to the legal and factual reality that the tenure of parliament is predicated on the assumption of office by the new President. The reason why they have not been sworn is because the President has not been elected.
“The MDC is urging the world to isolate Mugabe’s regime yet it appears willing to work with the regime internally. The messages do not tally and therein lies the inconsistency that may be damaging.”
President Mugabe has vowed to go ahead with Friday’s vote, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission rejected Tsvangirai’s purported withdrawal as a nullity on Wednesday.
Tsvangirai, who is hiding at the Dutch Embassy in Harare
claiming its for security reasons, is pressing regional leaders to force
Mugabe to agree to a “transition government” and a postponement
of Friday’s ballot.
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