MDC leader Nelson Chamisa turned down an invitation to attend the official opening of Parliament presided over by President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday.
Chamisa had been invited to attend the State opening of Parliament by the clerk of Parliament but opted not to go.
The MDC leader’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said the opposition leader did not see any merit in taking up clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda’s offer.
“The president was invited but decided not to attend the opening,” Sibanda said.
Political analysts said Chamisa’s snub can only be reinforced by an official abstentionist policy which would represent a major shift by the party. This will mean MDC MPs must totally boycott Parliament.
Insiders however, said several members of the party were not as wedded to the abstentionist mantra and support a more pragmatic approach.
As it is, the MDC has committed to full participation, which has seen them involved in a swearing-in oath of loyalty to the State.
Analysts said MDC MPs must simply refuse to take their seats on the Parliament benches in line with the party’s policy of boycotting.
They also contend that to show seriousness about their protest, the MDC MPs’ time is better spent in their constituencies, dealing with constituency queries and getting to know their constituents rather than sitting on the green benches debating issues with a party they claim they do not recognise its legitimacy.
Analysts added that the MDC must formally become an abstentionist party and that position must be endorsed by the electorate, possibly through its forthcoming congress.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told the Daily News Chamisa can only have an effective protest if all his MPs boycotted Parliament.
“Chamisa is free to boycott the opening of Parliament. The leader of the opposition may express his disagreement with the election result, but the presence of his own MPs in Parliament makes this a difficult gesture to sustain,” Chan said.
“In the UK, Sinn Fein has always refused to take their seats in the Westminster Parliament, so boycotting is not unusual. The leader of the opposition’s role is to oppose — usually through parliamentary means — but he is able to oppose by other avenues that are within the law.”
Chan was referring to Sinn Féin — the only party contesting the British general election whose MPs will not take their seats. This policy dates back exactly 100 years to when the party’s first MPs, elected in 1917, decided to abstain from Westminster. It has been the case in every election since. Sinn Féin candidates campaigned in the election, only to refuse to take part in debates and votes after they won.
Namibia-based academic and scholar Admire Mare said the opposition party must not only oppose for the sake of opposition but instead should give an alternative to the current dispensation through its control of local authorities.
He said Chamisa’s refusal to accept the invitation, while it is another form of protest, is however, questionable given that his legislators plan to continue to attend, and even accept featherbeddings such as cars.
“I think there is too much grandstanding at the moment which is clouding proper engagement. Both parties seem to be finding it hard to eat the humble pie for the greater good of the country.
“There is too much politicking and hard ball playing which is not good for constructive engagement. Parties involved in this game seem to be focusing on scoring cheap political points,” Mare said.
“Whilst Chamisa has the right to turn down any invitation as he did when didn’t attend the inauguration, having his MPs attending the same event presided by what he calls ‘an illegitimate president’ sounds like a contradiction in many ways.
“I understand that the opposition’s strategy going forward is to build their zones of freedom through municipalities and local government structures where they won convincingly to build an alternative government.
“It may resemble the way Democratic Alliance in South Africa have managed to sell the discourse of ‘an open, transparent and good local governance’,” said Mare.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said both Chamisa and Mnangagwa are still stuck in the first state of denial and in the mentality of win-loser.
“They need to quickly realise that it is possible to have both of them as winners as long as the objective is not personal prestige, power, pretence and positions but the development of the country,” Saungweme said.
“They both need to show us that they mean what they say. Mnangagwa showed us his arms are not open by not reaching out to MDC when he appointed the Cabinet.
“Chamisa also showed that he is not for collaboration by spurning a mere parliamentary invitation.
“The question of legitimacy is no longer one, and the earlier people accept what is there and work to ensure those in power transform, the better. If the election was a sham and there are serious legitimacy questions, the MDC should not have accepted being in Parliament and local government.”