Zvamaida Murwira Senior Court Reporter
The MDC-T is now counting the cost of its decision to boycott by-elections that were occasioned by its recall of 21 Members of Parliament and the death of some of its legislators. The decision has had adverse effects on the opposition party’s political and financial well-being. Zanu-PF and MDC-T are the two main political parties that are entitled to get money from Treasury under the Political Parties (Finance) Act, because they managed to garner more than five percent of the votes cast in the July 31 2013 harmonised elections as stipulated by the relevant legislation.
Now coming to the distribution of the money, it is determined by how many legislators each party has and it is then shared proportionately. The decision by the MDC-T to boycott 14 by-elections is set to cost them almost $1,5 million this year alone under the Political Parties (Finance) Act, after Government earmarked $6 million for the parties which won 5 percent of the vote.
It did not contest the Nkulumane constituency by-election held in December last year to defend the seat left vacant by the death of Mr Thamsanqa Mahlangu, further prejudicing itself of the money.
If Government keeps the money at $6 million, it means the MDC-T will lose $4,5 million until general elections are held in 2018.
It is common cause that the MDC-T is running on a shoe-string budget and in most cases its workers have gone for months without being paid.
The money is meant to fund political activities of parties including election campaigns following the decision by Government to outlaw foreign funding of political parties.
The Political Parties (Finance) Act was enacted in 2001 after it emerged that the MDC-T was receiving funding from hostile nations.
Zanu-PF won 160 out of the contested 210 National Assembly seats in the July 31, 2013 elections, with MDC-T winning 49. One seat went to an independent contestant.
The ruling party has since increased its representation in Parliament by 15 seats after it won 14 by-elections occasioned by the MDC-T’s decision to recall 14 MPs and the death of Mr Mhlanga.
While the decision to forego the money might not be noticeable to ordinary party supporters, it is the decision to boycott by-elections that will inevitably send the opposition party to its political grave.
Besides the financial implications, the decision to withdraw will cost the opposition party politically as it has failed to defend its political space.
Instead of defending the ground that it had already gained and seek to gain more seats, the MDC-T is actually shooting itself in the foot.
Many observers feel the MDC-T has committed political suicide because it is surrendering the political space that it had already gained.
By boycotting by-elections, the MDC-T has abandoned the tenets of democracy which formed the core of any political party worth its salt.
Every political party is conceived and comes into existence for purposes of gaining power by participating in democratic elections.
A question all progressive people ask is what is the basis for its continued existence as a political party if it is not taking party in elections.
How does it envisage attaining power as a political outfit if it abandons a fundamental aspect of democracy, that of elections, if it wants to be taken seriously?
All this lends credence to the view that the MDC-T realised that it was at its weakest point to mount a formidable election challenge to Zanu-PF, following a painful split, which saw key party members led by former secretary general Mr Tendai Biti and national treasurer, Mr Elton Mangoma, forming their own political outfits.
There will be a heavy price from the electorate, particularly their supporters who watch their rivals celebrating election victories in constituencies the opposition could have won had they participated.
Another aspect is the apparent hypocrisy of the MDC-T in dealing with issues of electoral representation.
On the one hand the party has chosen not to contest the by-elections in 14 constituencies but it will still fill vacancies in proportional representations seats.
Some have argued that both processes were by-elections by different names.
The difference is that one set is contested and the other is not.
The party has chosen to boycott the contested ones but take up uncontested seats.
Last year, United Kingdom-based MDC-T official and former adviser to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Dr Alex Magaisa, slammed the opposition party describing its decision to boycott by-elections as a half hearted protest.
In his blog, Dr Magaisa reminisced on a post-caucus meeting held by the party in the wake of a heavy defeat at the hands of Zanu-PF in the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections.
He questioned the decision by the MDC-T to take up parliamentary seats of a process which they were denouncing as lacking legitimacy after the harmonised polls.
“If we were going to participate in Parliament it would make our case weaker in our engagements with the region and the international community, to whom we were saying the election was illegitimate,” said Dr Magaisa.
He slammed the MDC-T for going to Parliament after the harmonised polls when it was claiming that the process was flawed.
Dr Magaisa said MDC-T MPs were not willing to boycott Parliament because of the perks that went with that status.
The party appeared to be of the mistaken view that people were naïve to swallow hook, line and sinker it’s dummy that the environment was not conducive for free and fair elections when it was evident to all that its house was not in order.
The sooner the opposition realises that people are now wiser the better.