Source: Let’s not split hairs: Largest party should lead coalition – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 16, 2017
Gloves are off.
Talks and views pertaining to the formation of the proposed grand coalition to take on the ruling gargantuan Zanu PF machinery are beginning to sound like they are being held at the Tower of Babel as the jockeying for positions intensifies with even clear no-hopers throwing their names into the mix.
echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
It is becoming internecine — a mutually destructive fight — as opposition parties turn on each other. No wonder Zanu PF is rubbing its hands with glee. This has echoes of what Benjamin Burombo (1909?-1959), one of the earliest and most respected African nationalists in the then Rhodesia, who “shared fully in the lives and struggles of the people he sought to help”, observed: “Each time I want to fight for African rights, I use only one hand — because the other hand is busy trying to keep away Africans who are fighting me.”
Such times as these call for decisiveness. There is need to go forward. And to do that you need to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is need to whittle down the number of parties involved in the coalition talks. Contrary to what People’s Democratic Party leader (PDP) Tendai Biti said recently that there are 15 “serious” political parties in Zimbabwe, it’s not possible in a country with a small population as Zimbabwe. In the recently-held parliamentary election in the United Kingdom, whose population is nearly five times as large as Zimbabwe’s, only two parties — Conservative and Labour — emerged as serious contenders for power in their own right, with Liberal Democrats and Democratic Unionists trailing as distant, but potentially kingmaking, third and fourth. That’s the criterion for a party to be taken seriously.
From the word go, we should be clear that parties are never equal in size and influence. There is not such equiform or equidistribution in real life. A party coming from a strong position should have commensurate influence on the outcome of the coalition talks. To paraphrase the Bible, those with more will get more; and whoever has less will get less. You reap from your political capital or lack thereof. It’s simple and straightforward. In a sport like football, a player such as Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo earns much more than his teammates and even his coach because his value has risen in tandem with his individual achievements on the field of play. So it should be said to those political parties clamouring to be given an equal voice: Prove yourself first and no one can deny you that pride of place even if they wanted to because you will have finally arrived among the big boys and it will show and speak for itself. Nothing succeeds like success. Let’s not be misled by one expert who can best be described as having an ultra-democratic hangover, who said all parties should be given equal funding without any criteria.
In the opposition as things stand, only the MDC-T is a known quantity while the strengths of other parties, including Biti’s own PDP, are, to be generous, based on guesstimates — estimates that are hardly better than guesses because they are based on insufficient or unreliable data.
So, in the scheme of things, only some four or even less parties — Joice Mujuru’s National People’s Party, Biti’s PDP and Welshman Ncube’s MDC— could be categorised as serious ones, but based on the understanding that they are unknown quantities which could be wiped off the electoral map next year as happened to Ncube’s MDC in 2013, when it became clear in the voters’ minds that they had to make a stark choice between Zanu PF and MDC-T. The qualified reference among some journalists to the MDC-T as “the biggest opposition party by the number of parliamentary seats” is redundant, superfluous and useless because the number of seats reflects voter support or numerical strength on the ground. Editors should ban such meaningless references in their newsrooms. Let’s not make trivial distinctions.
People — including interested parties — can equivocate, split hairs about it, rationalise to their hearts’ content, but, as things stand, this automatically makes MDC-T the biggest partner in the coalition talks. Without MDC-T, there is nothing “grand” about the coalition, not to mention that the choice of the term “grand” has sounded quite exaggerated and hyperbolic with many of these opposition parties struggling to survive.
So whoever is/are in charge of the coalition talks should be quick to identify spoilers — those individuals and political parties unable to win themselves, but who spoil others’ chances of victory by making unreasonable demands delaying and confusing the situation. They need a no-nonsense chairperson, moderator, facilitator — call him what you may — in the mould of Jacob Mudenda, the current Speaker of the National Assembly, who won’t tolerate people who will bog down discussions for petty reasons or on frivolous grounds. The authoritative — not authoritarian — air of calmness, firmness, incisiveness and fairness that the Zanu PF-appointed Mudenda exudes has earned him respect across the political divide — and that’s something in the partisan and polarised politics in Zimbabwe. With the 2018 elections approaching, there is no time for petty objections, but to keep the discussions focused.
We now turn to the methodology of choosing the coalition leader.
You can turn a whole electorate against a popular cause by choosing a highly unpopular and uninspiring leader. In Zanu PF, there has been constant talk that Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is not electable. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped down in 2007 to let in his deputy Gordon Brown, who proved to be not as electable as him, with the Labour Party being in the political wilderness ever since. So, let’s be careful about what will be letting ourselves into before we tinker from the top. Let the final decision be guided by electability.
So for Biti to assert that “any candidate in the coalition is saleable” is being unrealistic
All in all, it’s sensible and — crucially — safe that the largest political party should lead the proposed coalition.It’s so obviously correct and appropriate that it requires no brainstorming to decide on, making it a no-brainer.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org