Zimbabwe: MDC between a rock and a hard place

JOHANNESBURG, 27 June (IRIN) - A move by Zimbabwe's frustrated Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to boycott parliament could spell disaster for the opposition party, analysts warned on Thursday.
They said parliament was the last remaining platform for the MDC to safely challenge the government.

The Financial Gazette on Thursday quoted MDC's shadow foreign minister for Harare North, Tendai Biti, as saying it was futile for the MDC to continue in parliament if it was "solely going to rubber stamp ZANU-PF madness and misgovernance".

Biti added that his views were shared by most MDC colleagues. However, the party's legal affairs secretary, David Coltart, told IRIN: "Although I do respect Mr. Biti, his comments were definitely made in his personal capacity. Certainly, whether we should remain as part of the legislative assembly or not is up for discussion.

"It is not official MDC policy to resign from the assembly. It must be noted though that there is a growing sense of frustration within the party with the deteriorating state of affairs."

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is expected on Friday to address a meeting of the party's parliamentary caucus consisting of its 55 elected MPs, where a decision will be taken on their role in parliament.

ZANU-PF chairman John Nkomo told IRIN: "If they choose to leave, it reflects the height of childishness and immaturity as a political party. Most democratic states around the world have minority parties who object to the ruling party's decisions. This is democracy. However, Zimbabwe will go on with or without them."

Chairman of Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights, Tawanda Hondora said: "It would be politically naive should they decide to boycott, in fact it will give ZANU-PF the right to govern with impunity. At least by maintaining a presence in the assembly they are in a position to raise objections to government policy which otherwise would pass through unchallenged."

Hondora added: "The assembly at least gives the MDC the chance to counter the government's attempt to paint the entire organisation as a bunch of terrorists. By giving up their place in the parliament, they are also relinquishing the small amount of protection they enjoy as part of the government. Should they go ahead, there are no assurances that they will get their message across without government harassment."

Since the March presidential elections, the MDC have been stymied by several amendments to various laws that have stifled political activism and freedom of expression. The MDC sees the tough new laws as leaving them hard pressed to come up with alternative strategies in response.

"The MDC finds itself thrashing around trying to find some way to strike back at the government but is fully aware of its own political impotence," senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Richard Cornwell, told IRIN.

President Robert Mugabe comfortably won the March election, but many poll observers said the process was flawed. The MDC is challenging the result in the courts, and has steered away from calling supporters onto the streets in protest.

The option of mass action, once considered a viable political tactic to confront the government, has become increasingly unpopular among pundits. They say that it is unlikely to succeed given the overwhelming sense of insecurity in the country.

A stay away campaign attempted by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions shortly after the March election was a flop.

Hondora noted: "Any kind of mass action now will only serve into the hands of the government who will use it as an opportunity to crush the opposition completely. It is unwise and dangerous."

Coltart said that the MDC has had to reconsider mass action in light of state-sanctioned political violence.

"Mass action is certainly still an option, but from what we have experienced we cannot afford to endanger the lives of our supporters. This is a government that must not be underestimated and if they have to, they will go beyond the law to crush opposition," he added.

The solution to the MDC's dilemma, some analysts suggest, could come from an unlikely source.

Observers say that the country's dwindling food supply could provide the impetus for people to take to the streets in protest in urban areas, where the MDC has the bulk of its support. A regional food assessment puts almost half of Zimbabwe's population at risk of having no food mainly because of a drought and the country's land reform programme.

Brian Kagoro, co-ordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe, an umbrella organisation of about 250 NGOs and church groups told IRIN: "In the populist sense it is nice to give land to the landless, but realistically they will have no resources, no agricultural input and no technical input. The nation will wake up with insufficient wheat and grain and the people will revolt."

But the current reality for the MDC is that parliament, dominated by the ruling party, provides the only platform for them to voice concern over the current political situation.


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