The Game is on!

Last week the government announced that the Parliamentary elections would be held on the 31st March 2005. That gives us 8 weeks to campaign and do all the things we have to do to compete effectively in the electoral process. Not long. Fortunately we have in fact been hard at work on election preparedness for several months and we were able to convene the National Executive and the Council of the MDC within 48 hours and to decide - after several hours of debate, to run in the election and then the following day, to confirm 110 candidates out of a required 120 while ordering the re-run of 10 primaries where we were not satisfied with the procedures followed.

On the 12th February we will launch our campaign in Masvingo and on the same day release our Party Manifesto and introduce our candidates. They will then be submitted to the Nomination Courts on the 18th February for approval. In the meantime our candidates - most of them, have already been in the field for some weeks campaigning quietly under the noses of the powers that be!

There were some moving testimonies - three white farmers have been selected by their districts to run as candidates - Roy Bennett has been confirmed despite his incarceration by Parliament. Ian Kay - well known Marondera farmer who was nearly beaten to death in the last campaign and whose great friend Dave Stevens was in fact killed, won his primary by two thirds majority. Threatened with death if he campaigned in the high-density townships of Marondera, Ian went straight in and has been campaigning on the ground for some time. Alan McCormack has gone back into Garuve and was elected overwhelmingly by his District.

In the Mount Darwin district - a so called "no go area" for the MDC where we have not been able to hold a meeting or canvas our structures for 4 years, over 180 delegates from the district ward committees walked out of the bush to attend the primaries - ordinary peasant farmers. They were supporting the opposition on principle and voting with their lives on the line.

Who said that Africans do not care about principle or democracy? If you want to see solid evidence of just that - attend any MDC function and watch the disciplined, non-violent, commitment to democratic principles and human rights. We are not a Party of intellectuals or the rich - you will see few vehicles at our rallies, just thousands or ordinary, hard working people who live simple lives. For me this is one of the most inspiring aspects of the MDC.

Will the elections be free and fair? Of course not - we have not had any time on any of the State media for nearly three years, only hostile propaganda against us poured out 24 hours a day. All our meetings are monitored and most are banned by the Police on one pretext or another. In the Honde valley our candidate - a single mother, has had 10 out of 11 meetings banned in the past few days. She reported that the regional governor has told local traditional leaders that the MDC will not be allowed to campaign in that District.

Our security agencies and the military will run the election - the new Election Commission (brought into being in response to the SADC pressure!) has yet to be given an office or staff - our letters to them are hand delivered to their homes. Yet they are on paper, responsible for the voter's roll (closed yesterday) and the actual voting procedures and the administration of the poll itself. Huge responsibilities in an election with millions of voters and 12000 polling stations. It is a sick joke.

Zanu has been planning the election for two years. They think they have it sown up - the opposition cowed, the people confused and the process totally in their hands. They were so confident 6 months ago that we had information from inside Zanu PF that they were actually debating how many seats to allow the MDC and which ones!

Now the battle is on. MDC is in fact better prepared for these elections than Zanu PF - we already have a manifesto which is coherent and well thought through on all issues, we have over 90 per cent of our candidates appointed and running. We have been campaigning quietly on the ground throughout the country for some time. We do not have any money - but we have no debt and what we get in now will go to the coalface. Zanu PF on the other hand has no candidates in many districts and is heavily in debt. They are deeply divided on many issues and the bruising primaries have sapped support. Thousands of traditional Zanu PF supporters - including many who have become wealthy on the back of Zanu patronage, are disaffected.

Morgan Tsvangirai said this week "this election will be won or lost on technical issues". He is right - if we had a free and fair election in which people were free to make up their own minds and could vote freely for the party of their choice, it would be no contest. MDC would win. But it is not going to be like that and every aspect of this election is flawed. Even the modifications introduced in response to the SADC protocols make this election flawed - for example, no mobile voting stations - instead we have 12000 polling stations - how on earth do we supervise that vast spread and remember the vote is counted at the polling stations this time. Fine, if we have observers and polling agents - but we have no assurance that they will be allowed and on past experience, they will be barred from the process.

In 2000 Vice President Muzenda (since deceased) said, "If we (Zanu PF) put up a baboon as a candidate, you must vote for them". Well we will see if this is the case this time! We have done all we can to ensure that the people have a choice. I think we have a chance - but we need help to make it happen.

MDC needs - a great deal of money to campaign, to catch up in the media when we finally are allowed space, to organise on the ground so that every polling station is covered by trained and dedicated polling agents. We need volunteers to man our campaign offices, to run errands and to do the million and one things that must be done. In addition we are asking specifically for volunteers to provide vehicles, drivers and fuel and food for polling day. These will be used to deploy polling agents on the day before polling, to then supervise the poll at up to 5 polling stations and then co-ordinate the results from counting that night for relay to national headquarters. Why not take three days leave and come and have some fun on the ground with us - and in the process make sure that this time, the result is not stolen from the people.

E G Cross
Bulawayo, 5th February 2005