Everyone can win and all have prizes?

Yet another phase in the constitutional reform process is over, and, like all the phases before it, progress is very hard to discern. As with the GPA itself, which stays stuck on exactly the same issues that were a problem from the outset, the constitutional process remains stuck in the same way: presidential powers, security sector oversight, devolution, and the like were always going to be points of contention, and so they are still. If we wonder about all of this, then pay attention to the recent comments by Patrick Chinamasa and Rugare Gumbo.

When these senior politicians state baldly that the military will not accept any government than a ZANU PF one, this is merely another way of stating that ZANU PF itself will not cede political power, and this has been the fundamental problem since March 2008. As Brian Raftopoulos recently pointed out, Zimbabwe is now in stalemate, but in reality did it ever get out of stalemate from the beginning in 2008? Raftopoulos makes plain what few seem willing to grasp: the ZANU PF strategy “has been to manipulate and stall the reform provisions in the GPA, and to regroup and reconfigure its political resources after plunging to the nadir of its legitimacy in the 2008 electoral defeat”.[1]

This is not a trivial point, and, despite all external bodies’ claims that there is progress under the GPA and the Inclusive Government, this is all in spite of, and not because of, a genuine transitional arrangement: this was a peace treaty, not a move towards transition. This is not to deny progress towards stability in many areas, but, without the major political issue being addressed, it is doubtful that this progress can be sustained. And it is the basis for a genuine election process and a meaningful transition to democracy (however defined) that is the major problem.

As the guarantors of the GPA, SADC has insisted on a “road map” for genuine elections, which included both constitutional reform and the reform of institutions. The former is now stuck in competing demands, and there has been absolutely no attempt at the latter. Furthermore, without the restoration of national institutions, even a constitution that was agreeable to both of the major political parties could not guarantee a genuine election in the absence of real civilian oversight of the military, the insistence on non-partisan policing, the removal of the ZANU PF monopoly over the state media, the impartiality of the Office of the Attorney-General, and the removal of political control over local government and traditional leadership.

Time is now running out. The constitutional requirement for elections in 2013 marks a line in the sand, whether this takes place in March, called early by President Mugabe, or after June when the life of the present Parliament is over. So what can be done?

The response of the international community will be crucial to future development, and the unlocking of the stalemate. Brian Raftopoulos, amongst others, points out the vital necessity for all the internationals to be of one mind here. It will be critical that the AU, the EU, the US, and BRICS back fully whatever position is adopted by SADC. Any division will be extremely unhelpful, and, as has been so forcefully demonstrated during the life of this GPA, will allow ZANU PF to manoeuvre using the marginal claims of “sovereignty”.

However, what can actually be done depends very much on what happens in the next eight months, and there seem to be only three possible scenarios. We can ignore the effects of a new constitution or not: it is improbable in the extreme that any new constitution will take effect before a new election, and hence problems evident in previous elections will still apply. There is no wholly independent electoral machinery, all state institutions still owe fealty to ZANU PF, and the media remain in thrall of ZANU PF. This restricts the range of possible outcomes.

The first possible scenario is that elections are called early, in March 2013. This will require the President dissolving Parliament, and an election taking place within 90 days. In effect, this will mean that Mugabe is also ending the GPA pact, but he will be legally entitled to do so, no matter the previous protestations of the two MDC’s or the demands by SADC. There may be several possible consequences here. Should SADC be insistent, and consonant with their previous demands, that an election without reforms is unacceptable, SADC may refuse to accept this election ab initio, which would create an opportunity for the MDC’s to boycott. This could create a major regional crisis, force new negotiations about a transitional arrangement, and negotiations in which ZANU PF’s hand will be severely weakened. This is possible if SADC remains strongly and consensually committed to the demands made at previous summits and Troika meetings, but, as the International Crisis Group pointed out recently, SADC is not historically known for adopting strong positions with defaulting or deviant members[2].

Of course, should the MDC’s decide to participate, or SADC continue its generally weak response to regional crises, then an election takes place, and we will have to see the quality of this election and its acceptability. History suggests that the MDC’s participate, SADC does not pre-empt the process, and, following a flawed election, all parties are back to the negotiating table. 2008 all over again!

The second scenario suggests that no reforms happen, and June 2013, with the constitutional necessity for elections, arrives. All political parties will have to participate, SADC’s objections are vitiated by the potential constitutional crisis, and yet another flawed election takes place. This option avoids all (or any) political parties having to withdraw from the GPA, and forces SADC (and everyone else) to concede to the sovereign status of the Zimbabwe constitution. Crucially there have been no reforms as suggested in the GPA, and demanded by SADC. But there will be an election held under a legitimate constitution, but with legal institutions and under valid Zimbabwean law, but the only position that the externals can adopt will be to decide whether it meets the standards of a legitimate election. Most probably this election will not meet the test of acceptability, and hence back to the negotiating table.

The requirement to go back to the negotiating table will only produce a useful result if, as Raftopoulos suggests, all the internationals are ad idem about the way forward. Long term observers of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe will scarcely hope that this is possible.

The third scenario is even less palatable: an internal settlement between ZANU PF and MDC-T. The two parties agree on a continuance of the GPA for a specific time period, amend the constitution (again) to give effect to this legally, and avoid any need for an election in 2013. It is not the same as the Smith/Musorewa/Sithole pact of the 1970s since all parties are in agreement: unlike the 1970s, the major political players are not outside the deal. The minority parties may dislike this, but, since between them ZANU PF and MDC-T can easily raise the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment, their minority voice will be irrelevant. SADC, the AU, and the international community as a whole may also dislike it, but will hardly be in a position to politically react when it has such strong internal political support.

Against the first two scenarios, the third has something to commend it, but only if certain conditions are met. It may avoid the trauma that inevitably follows elections, and especially elections that involve a contest for the Presidency, which in contemporary Zimbabwe are always a contest for the real political power in government. However, the concern must be for what will be the basis that underlies the continued inclusive government. If it is merely a continuation of the existing GPA, this will be a disaster, and merely perpetuate the stalemate identified by Brian Raftopoulos. If it involves a thorough revision of the current GPA, removal of all the sources of ambiguity and contest, puts in place a genuine transitional arrangement (such as that put in place in South Africa in the 90s), has a specified time limit, and is wholly oriented towards creating the conditions for internationally accepted elections, then this may a very suitable political development.

Short of these changes, it will be a disastrous development. Under the existing GPA, ZANU PF has learned that, as long as they have the Presidency, they can govern quite happily with a minority in the House of Assembly. The weakening of the MDC-T will continue apace until they have gone the way of PF ZAPU under the Unity Accord, and the dreaded succession problem can be put aside for a while. In the Wonderland of Zimbabwean politics it may look like all will have prizes, but the reality is that there will be only one winner, and the losers will continue to be the Zimbabwean citizenry.

[1] Raftopoulos, B. (2012) ‘SPT-Zimbabwe Update No.5. October 2012: Towards another stalemate in Zimbabwe?’, 22 October, Solidarity Peace Trust: [http://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org]




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s