Decision time

After 9 months of negotiation under the auspices of SADC, the MDC was finally forced to make decisions as to what to do about the whole electoral process this weekend. Two sets of negotiation had been going on in parallel - talks with Zanu PF under the facilitation of the South African government and talks with the Mutambara faction of the MDC in the hope that the Party might be reunified to fight the next election.

In the first process we had in fact made huge progress. A comprehensive package of reforms - some of which have been implemented, was negotiated, giving us the chance of a free and fair electoral process if they were implemented. Mugabe, who all along had been negotiating under duress, was eventually faced with the decision - allow these reforms through and face defeat or just tell his South African and SADC colleagues that they were asking too much - he decided on the latter.

Mbeki was forced to use his last option - to confront Mugabe's refusal to implement the deal negotiated at such expense and time at a meeting of SADC Heads of State. He did so last week at Addis on the sidelines of the AU summit and we understand he pulled no punches. However in the end Mugabe was backed by three other Heads of State - Swaziland, Namibia and Angola and Mbeki came away with no decision - such a decision could only be taken on a consensual basis and 4 against censure and 8 in favor was just not enough.

So when the MDC leadership gathered in Harare this weekend to consider the question of fighting the next election, now just two months away, it was against the background of a failed mediation effort by President Mbeki. In addition to this set back, we faced the reality that despite the reforms already adopted and passed through Parliament with our assistance, the regime in Harare was maintaining its barrage of anti democratic policies against the MDC. Marches and rallies were being banned, there is no sign of any reform in the media and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is totally under the control and direction of the Zanu PF led regime and was being staffed with many of the old electoral management from the security services.

The debate in the National Executive and then the Council was short and when the vote came to participate it was carried unanimously, there were no dissenting voices. I was not surprised at all; I thought we never had any alternative. In answer to those who claimed that by running we were going to actually legitimize a rigged election, the President stated that to the contrary, the only way to demonstrate the illegitimate nature of the regime would be to contest every seat and make sure that they have to rig massively to get a result in their favor.

So now we have 5 days to put up nearly 2000 candidates under the MDC banner. That is no small task and it's just as well we anticipated this decision and are far down the road on this one. I do not think we will get a candidate into every Rural District Council seat but we will contest every Urban Council seat and every Parliamentary and Senatorial seat, plus the Presidency. We launch the campaign on the 17th February in Mutare.

On the second track of negotiations that we were engaged in we had been talking to the other faction of the MDC for over a year. Initially they had wanted a 'amicable divorce' but insisted on continuing to use the MDC name and symbols and we said that if they wanted to do so, then unity was the only route we would accept.

We have since negotiated a full reunification agreement and when the election was announced, it was decided to translate that into an electoral pact that would take us past the elections and then going onto a Congress where the unification process would be completed. But the devil is always in the detail and when the MDC leadership was presented with the suggested list in terms of allocated seats, the whole deal fell apart.

It is now generally accepted that the group led by Mutambara is the smaller group, the crucial question is how much smaller? Obviously we felt that it is very much the junior player while they (understandably) do not agree. Had they accepted the selection of candidates by a democratic system there would have been no real argument - the decision as to who stood where would be left to the Party structures in the electoral districts concerned. However the Mutambara group feared that such a process would decimate their representation (I agree) and refused to go down that path. In the end I guess failure was inevitable.

In the end we resolved to adopt the unity agreement with one or two minor amendments but to go back to the Mutambara group with a revised allocation of seats - one that our leadership felt was more realistic. The Mutambara group rejected this out of hand and we mutually decided to go it alone. I must say, although I had anticipated this outcome, I was astonished by the reaction - not only in the MDC itself but nationally. The decision was received favorably across the country.

So now - for better or worse, we will fight this election - the Tsvangirai led MDC joined by Zanu Ndonga will fight all seats and the Mutambara group will put up as many candidates as they can and run against us. There will be other Parties in the game - I know of 5 so far, perhaps with more to come, but in essence it will be the three-way scrap between Zanu PF and the two MDC groups that will receive most attention. Only the main wing of the MDC offers the chance of regime change and this puts all others at a severe disadvantage, and they know it. There was a profound sense of gloom at the hotel where the Mutambara group was caucusing yesterday in Harare.

But at least we now know where we stand and this ends some of the uncertainty. Our focus has to be on the campaign - explaining to the voters what we will do if elected and I am pleased with what we have done in preparation for that. Then we must persuade people to turn out and vote - a steep hill to climb as the past decade has persuaded many that voting is a waste of time.

But our main task will be to stop Zanu PF doing a Kibaki on us - stealing the result when we have actually done enough to win.

Eddie Cross

Bulawayo, 4th February 2008