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Process vs populism: Unpacking the Supreme Court ruling against Chamisa

Populism without process has turned out to be wholly inadequate for the party of excellence.
The judgement is germane to the MDC. MDC-T was a moniker developed to distinguish the Tsvangirai faction from that of Welshman Ncube/Arthur Mutambara. Officially, they both remained MDC. Similarly, the MDC Alliance was a vehicle for elections used by seven political parties led by the MDC, hence the prefix to its title. The MDC Alliance was never a stand-alone party, but a group of parties coalescing around the MDC for purposes of elections.

At the conclusion of elections, some alliance members joined the MDC whilst others reverted to their own structures.

Therefore, the MDC, and not the MDC Alliance, held its fifth elective congress in Gweru where advocate Chamisa was elected president. It was not an inaugural MDC Alliance congress, but the fifth iteration of the MDC's elective congresses at which they celebrated 20 years of existence. This is the MDC that was before the court which has to fulfil the judgement order.

The Supreme Court made this abundantly clear by stating without equivocation that Chamisa "…was unanimously elected as the president of the party, i.e. the one that is presently before this court, at its congress convened in June 2019."

It is the party which elected advocate Chamisa as president which is required to abide by the court's findings. Given that the alliance is something that collapsed into the party after elections, it is counter-intuitive to suggest it can be extricated and presented as the bona fide entity which held a congress 2019. Neither the facts nor the judgment sustains this claim.

The court noted that Khupe may be involved with a different political formation, but found that it does not amount to abandoning her rights and interests in terms of the MDC constitution. Her activities are insufficient basis to cleanse the constitutional abrogation by the MDC and its functionaries. In the absence of a judicial determination regarding the circumstances that led to advocate Chamisa's elevation, her rights and interests in the party remained extant, her activities elsewhere notwithstanding.

This judgement reinforces Khupe's claim to the reins of the MDC in real and material terms. She is the acting president of the MDC at law. Matters to do with party assets, participation in the MDC Alliance, as well as disbursements from the state all, fall squarely under her stewardship. These are not trivial matters.

It could mean an ability to recall members of parliament and local authorities, which comes with the capacity to whip elected representatives into conformity. Further, it enhances her ability to engage with regional and international actors as the only legally recognised leader of the main opposition. The swift moves by Morgen Komichi and Douglas Mwonzora to take assertive action and shape the political narrative suggest that those dismissing the judgement out of hand might be underestimating its utility.

Of course, advocate Chamisa retains his public appeal. He can opt to use his numbers to trounce Khupe at the court-ordered extraordinary congress. But even as you are reading this, I suspect you share my doubt regarding the plausibility of such new found collegiality. The advocate has done everything in his power to avoid any eventuality in which he is not at the helm of the party, even temporarily.

His experience running against Mwonzora in 2014 likely made him suspicious of electoral process which are not under his control. His loyalists' retorts at the courts were as swift as they were sharp, signalling continued disdain with any adverse rulings from the courts.

Without any substantive critique of the judgement, they have opted for the insistence that it is inconsequential since their new found titular home is under the banner of the MDC Alliance.

Insisting on the identity of MDC Alliance involves relinquishing that of the MDC — which may come with loss of real and material power (and possibly assets). It is conceivable that grounds will be found to mount a constitutional challenge. However, the political dividend from such a move would be minimal in circumstances where there is no impending congress or plebiscite at which electoral performance can countenance constitutional misfeasance.

The most certain outcome is that the Chamisa camp will not take this lying down. I previously presented this as a clash of constitutionalism against populism; a mild but alarming version of Zanu-PF's conviction that its electoral majority is a licence to freedom from constitutional constraints.

After the High Court and Supreme Court have both restated the contents and made orders in terms of the MDC's own (now undisputed) constitution, they will no doubt retort…but we have the people! If they follow the court order they will also have legal propriety, without which there will be new instalments in this ceaseless yet needless confrontation at the expense of consolidating opposition movement.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

Chuka is an experienced certified web developer with an extensive background in computer science and 18+ years in web design &development. His previous experience ranges from redesigning existing website to solving complex technical problems with object-oriented programming. Very experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, PHP and advanced JavaScript. He loves to travel and watch movies.

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