HARARE – The MDC has been pressing for the de-legitimisation of President Robert Mugabe and his regime after the disputed election in July.
Last week, the MDC boycotted the opening of Parliament charging Mugabe is an “illegitimate president”.
However, efforts to strip him of legitimacy do not seem to have sufficient or any traction.
The discourse on political and governmental legitimacy is often discussed in the context of internal and external legitimacy.
International relations are replete with situations where a government is deemed legitimate by some States and illegitimate by others.
Mugabe’s domestic legitimacy has barely been challenged. Instead, in recent weeks he and his regime have focused on the quest for external recognition.
True, a correlation exists between internal and external legitimacy.
Ideally, States ought to legitimise regimes recognised by domestic populations.
However, the MDC’s own indiscretions have made Mugabe’s de-legitimisation locally and externally, difficult.
For example, participating in an election with all indications of potential manipulation and flaws elections was disingenuous. Participation legitimises the election.
Challenging the legitimacy of outcome is much more difficult, particularly in Zimbabwe, and Africa where leaders and regional bodies have set very low electoral standards.
Post-election events suggest domestic legitimacy of Mugabe’s regime is intact.
As noted, the absence of spontaneous mass reaction or sustained protest after what the opposition believes was a massively rigged election means Mugabe’s domestic legitimacy is unchallenged in any meaningful or effective way.
The Arab Spring raised the bar in responses to illegitimate leadership.
In the absence of popular agitation, the West will probably now be questioning whether Mugabe is indeed domestically illegitimate.
The MDC MPs will take their seats in Parliament, save for inconsequential boycotts here and there.
Furthermore, the MDC recently appointed a shadow Cabinet, a move that has been read as recognition of the Mugabe regime.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, said Mugabe is a “reality” he could not ignore.
Collectively, these internal conditions favour Mugabe quest for external legitimacy.
His recent remarks suggest he yearns for such external recognition. During the opening of Parliament boycotted by the MDC, Mugabe stated: “On the diplomatic front, we will continue to redouble efforts in promoting the political and economic interests and image of Zimbabwe in the region and beyond.
“We indeed stand ready to work even with those who even before were at odds with us, our detractors.”
Notably, the tone has changed. His lieutenants too have been expressing a desire for external legitimacy.
Zanu PF national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo said: “We have even said that let us return to normalcy in terms of our relations with the West, but they seem to be not quite certain of what to do.”
Similarly, Chris Mutsvangwa, the new deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, pointed out: “We are very anxious that we quickly build our relations with them. We will spare no effort in exploring all avenues at improving our relations with the traditional partners in the European Union and in Washington.”
These sentiments indicate that the Mugabe regime is now “anxious” about external legitimacy.
However, such anxiety is contradicted by a lack of diplomatic tact.
Mugabe’s public posturing against the US and the West does not augur well for normalisation of relations.
He might want to take a leaf from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who has opted for moderation rather than confrontation. He calls it “constructive engagement.”
Iran, under sanctions too, is obviously not a darling of the US and the West.
Rouhani successor to belligerent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has thus set out to repair relations.
Before going to the UN General Assembly in New York, Rouhani, addressed the American people directly.
The White House hinted a meeting Rouhani and President Obama is possible. Whatever his motives, Rouhani has adopted a pragmatic approach.
Not threatened by a passive domestic opposition now doubted by its external allies, Mugabe has a chance to secure external legitimacy.
However, Mugabe’s quest for external legitimacy rests in constructive re-engagement rather than grandstanding.
He can leave the political scene with Zimbabwe a full member of the community of nations. Such external legitimacy comes with national benefits.