What’s really behind Zimbabwe’s POLAD scheme: Power or democracy?

By Michelle Chifamba
Posted on Friday, 27 August 2021 17:10

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrives to officially open a new parliament session at Parliament Building in Harare, Zimbabwe, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa caused a stir after he handed over 19 brand new vehicles - worth an estimated $60,000 each - to his political opponents, losing presidential aspirants in the July 2018 elections that sealed his presidency in a disputed election.

Mnangagwa made the move, in early August, under the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) that he created in 2019. However, many question where the money to fund such extravagant gifts has come from and whether it’s really for the benefit of democracy.

Under Section 67 [1 – 4] of Zimbabwe’s constitution, the right to a multi-party democracy is to be protected. It states that every citizen has the right to participate in “the activities of a political party or organisation of their choice” and “to participate in peaceful political activity” as an independent or as a member of the political party. The Political Parties Finance Act states that the government has the obligation to support political parties with funding for their activities.

Using his executive powers, Mnangagwa thus formed POLAD as a platform to promote dialogue between the president and political opponents who did not win the 2018 elections. This compensatory prize was meant to be a means of fostering and encouraging multi-party democracy.

Lovemore Madhuku, one of the opposition members who joined POLAD, says since their opposition parties are not part of the government, being part of this forum allows them to provide input for national development. According to him, this is in line with the philosophy of the framework that enables political winners and losers to work together for the sake of the country.

Enablers?

When Zimbabwe held elections in 2018, it had more than 15 aspiring presidential candidates. Political analysts deemed calls for POLAD as a way to divide the vote and further weaken the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – the main opposition alliance led by Nelson Chamisa.

Most of the small political parties were the ones to join POLAD, after Chamisa’s MDC refused, warning that the new forum would cause the ruling party to swallow the opposition. The parties that joined the political pact are viewed as ‘regime enablers’ who are in politics simply for financial gain.

National Constitutional Assembly [NCA] president and POLAD delegate Madhuku, was one of those who received a vehicle from Mnangagwa. He says the cars are state property given to them for supporting government programmes and working for their political parties.

The Constitution stipulates that in promoting multi-party democracy, an Act of Parliament must provide for funding of political parties. In Zimbabwe’s Electoral Act, if a political party or individual participates in an election and gets 5% of votes, then he/she (or the party) is entitled to receive funding.

However, Madhuku tells The Africa Report that the 5 % rule is not the only way in which political parties can get funding through the government. “… POLAD is a government initiative created by the president to work with [political] losers, and we are entitled to get funding”.

Incentivising the opposition

According to Madhuku, POLAD is the best way to improve good governance. “It is a useful platform that can be a way forward for Zimbabwe because it allows [political] losers to work with winners, and this must be adopted across African countries such as Zambia and Botswana. As NCA we believe that it is an important way of governing the affairs of society and voters need to know that governance is not only for those who won an election, but [also for] those that have lost so that the nation progresses by working together.”

However, political analysts say Mnangagwa has shown himself to be a leader fixated on authoritarian leadership. Since ascending to the presidency three years ago, he has shown no sign of power sharing, especially with the opposition. Brewing himself into an imperial leader, Mnangagwa has been skillful in his power consolidation, incentivising the opposition to dilute dissenting voices and paralyse his opponents.

POLAD is Mnangagwa’s creation to give the world an impression that there is an arrangement between the opposition and the […] government…

According to Alex Magaisa, a political analyst, authoritarian leaders like Mnangagwa have several ways of trying to eliminate the opposition and consolidate power, including the use of repressive laws or bribing opponents. “Mnangagwa, a man who waited more than three decades to rule, has no intentions [of sharing] his power. He is using bribery and incentives to win the opposition.”

No sincerity in politics

While POLAD is Zimbabwe’s first platform in which the ruling party and the opposition parties are seemingly engaged in a form of consensus-building on national issues, political analysts say it is merely a veneer by the ruling party, Zanu PF, to consolidate power.

“In politics nothing is done for sincerity; but there is always a scheme of things behind the scenes,” Gibson Nyikadzino, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe Politics, tells The Africa Report. “The ruling party and government, led by Mnangagwa, is trying to put a face of unity; but once achievements are made, it will be back to default settings because the role of politics is scheming to come up with the upper hand. Mnangagwa’s government is promoting dialogue with the opposition to secure his legacy.”

Public funds despite worsening economy

An authoritarian regime will ensure that its enablers are bribed and enticed to dilute the voice of the opposition, says Bhekezela Gumbo, a senior researcher at the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute (ZDI).

“POLAD is Mnangagwa’s creation to give the world an impression that there is an arrangement between the opposition and the […] government to promote dialogue in Zimbabwe among political opponents. The beneficiaries are ‘regime enablers’ working with Mnangagwa to dilute the voice of the opposition,” he tells The Africa Report.

While handing over the 19 brand new Isuzu D-Max vehicles to his political opponents through POLAD, Mnangagwa told them that they are to use the cars across the country’s provinces to implement national programmes.

At a time when the country is struggling with a weakening economy, further impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, political analysts expressed outrage against Mnangagwa for using public funds to make such a purchase.

Nyikadzino says it is an exaggeration to say that Mnangagwa donated vehicles to his opponents when the country is facing an economic crisis. “POLAD is being done by the office of the president as the representation arm of the state which is the Executive and it is funded through such. For its purposes, the delegates need to reach out to the people […] identify with the government’s initiative and work for their parties in a country that supports multi-party democracy”.

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