Basildon Peta: A flawed constitution makes this election pointless

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The eminent American scholar J K Galbraith must have had in mind political contests like today's anti-climactic poll in Zimbabwe when he trenchantly commented: "Political elections are about choosing between the unpalatable and the disastrous."

The eminent American scholar J K Galbraith must have had in mind political contests like today's anti-climactic poll in Zimbabwe when he trenchantly commented: "Political elections are about choosing between the unpalatable and the disastrous."

Zimbabweans will have to choose between a rock and a hard place.

To its critics, Zimbabwe's probable alternative, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is in many respects unpalatable, but Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF is simply disastrous.

It goes without saying that serious political elections must be fought on coherent and credible policy programmes. It goes without saying that serious opposition parties seeking to replace incumbents must have coherent and credible policy programmes. Yet there is no doubt that the MDC has often been found wanting in this department.

Pulling Zimbabwe out of its current wretched state requires a clear vision and a strategy which goes beyond the MDC's paper promise to restore a sound economy without the concrete details of how realistically to achieve this.

There is also no denying that the MDC owes its dramatic birth in 1999 more to widespread discontent with Mr Mugabe and to the charismatic appeal of its firebrand trade union leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, than to anything else.

Driven by anger against Mr Mugabe's barbarous regime, most who voted for the MDC in 2000 did not even know what they stood for. Conflicting statements from MDC leaders on core issues - some saying land confiscated from white farmers will be returned, others saying it won't be - is hardly the stuff that real governments-in-waiting are made of.

But while there are fair reasons to debate the MDC's ability to pull Zimbabwe out of its economic and political morass, there can be no denying that the ruling Zanu-PF is simply disastrous - thanks to Mr Mugabe's corrosive leadership and tragic stupidity.

If I had divine power to determine the course of events in my beloved country, there would be no election today. Instead, I would be assembled with my fellow countrymen hammering out the details of a new constitution, a first and indispensable step towards re-democratising Zimbabwe.

Consider this grim scenario. Mr Mugabe can lose all 120 seats contested today and still legally remain in power because he has the right to overrule parliament until he faces presidential elections in 2008. Even if the MDC tries to use a majority to impeach him, he can legally call upon his army, police and notorious youth brigades to forestall such a process arguing he was directly "elected". So what's the point of voting?

Lets hope for the best-case scenario that Mr Mugabe gracefully accepts defeat and resigns. But what guarantee is there that Mr Tsvangirai will not be tempted to continue ruling under the current flawed constitution.

Perhaps for us to start to achieve real change, we Africans need to get the basics right. In Zimbabwe that means getting rid of a bad constitution first and building in guarantees that this situation won't ever happen again.

Elections under flawed conditions merely offer a repeat of the same old story and no real alternatives.

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