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How to Gauge Multi-Party Democracy in a Polity

After my article on the late Tsvangirai and multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe, someone asked me which party is going to win in the 2018 elections. I simply replied that it’s about people’s choices and popular governance. This is a democratic country. The people’s favourite will win.

I knew the other question would be which people? So I continued to describe the people as the youths, women, men, the elderly, and war veterans and so forth — all those who can vote for democracy or prestige.

The people of Zimbabwe will soon vote to appoint councillors, parliamentarians and the president to govern them until the next electoral cycle. Elections are the best way to gauge multi-party democracy. We elect MPS using the proportional representation. Of course, we must not forget that women are entitled to 60 parliamentary seats in this election. We hope the political parties which will participate in this election are aware of this constitutional position.

Elsewhere, we saw how multi-party democracy in Liberia led to the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005. We saw how that country recently conducted a presidential run-off where former footballer George Weah was the eventual winner. We saw how multi-party democracy in Kenya was protected by the Kenyan courts after allegations of hacking. Of course Raila Odinga’s pull-out of the run-off and his self-swearing in as President added to the beauty of multi-party democracy, never mind how beautiful the antics were.

For Zimbabwe, 2018 is an election year. I have identified some of the people who can vote in this election above. This year must not be seen as belonging to one constituency of the people so identified above. The people’s question on who will win must simply end on the fact that we have a multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe. Therefore, before we vote for any leader we must first know them. How do we go about this?

The candidate who appeals to his or her constituency will win. It’s not so much about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or civil society organisations such as ZESN or ERC. We may talk about security sector reforms or rigging and so forth. We may talk about voter intimidation and the how and when of proclaiming an election and so forth.

All that is fine in a democracy, but all that is required is for the people to be made aware that multi-party democracy is part of their quest for popular governance — something which must compel them to register to vote, and cast the vote on the voting process; something which must compel them to shun political violence and hate speech in the pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral environments.

Multi-party democracy is also gauged by the preparedness of political parties to be recognised by their supporters. We are barely five months away from the election. ZANU-PF has endorsed ED’s candidature.

The MDC Alliance had endorsed Chamisa, but it seems some elements in the MDC-T still want to choose a candidate for the 2018 elections. Do we read this to mean that there would be an MDC-T candidate to contest in the coming elections outside the Alliance? If this is so, is the MDC-T serious about voting ZANU-PF out of power?

I heard someone saying some people are not aware that former President Mugabe is no longer the President of Zimbabwe. Put differently, they are not aware that ED is the incumbent President. This is something which can certainly be avoided if people are given information on what is happening in ZANU-PF or MDC or any other political party, which will participate in this year’s elections.

We know that there are several political parties that will contest, but we have known through social media that the electoral momentum is between ZANU-PF’s President Mnangagwa and the MDC-T or MDC Alliance’s candidate. Using information from the MDC Alliance or MDC-T’s National Council, Nelson Chamisa seems to be the Alliance candidate who will take on President Mnangagwa.

This knowledge allows the electorate to reach a point where it desires to know the benefits of voting one party into power over the other. It can be very detrimental for the MDC-T to continue to report discordantly on who their presidential candidate would be. This is especially so if regard is had to the fact that Zimbabwe’s President is directly and jointly elected by voters.

The party supporter must be made aware of who to vote for in the ballot box. You cannot hope for the best if you prepare for the worst. The people’s choice can only be preferred if the people know him.

Popular governance is another way to gauge multi-party democracy. In Madison’s view I gather that as early as 1822 the politics of popular governance has been based on information gathering and sharing in countries such as the United States.

Madison states that a “popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives”.

The constitution provides some knowledge on eligibility of candidates. As a logical corollary, party and national constitutions must be seen as normative guideposts for multi-party democracy. Political party functionaries who aspire to govern a national polity must be disposed to respecting their party and national constitutions.

ZANU-PF members have periodically amended and used their party Constitution to effect political changes in recent years. There have been expulsions and readmissions of members. Its members such as the current President also used the national Constitution to challenge their expulsion from ZANU-PF and government.

ZANU-PF used the two constitutions to try and resolve the legitimacy of President Mnangagwa’s Government. For the MDC-T, it seems there is a perennial argument on Chamisa’s legitimacy as Tsvangirai’s successor. It is true that Khupe may be seen as having a candidate double constituency — the female electorate and constitutional legitimacy of a leader who fits into what is reduced to writing in a party Constitution.

But then, we must never forget Machiavelli’s lion and the beast model of understanding the game of thrones.

The MDC’s National Council ratified Chamisa’s appointment at the helm of the MDC by operation of the Constitution and as such, his candidature in the 2018 elections may be seen as having the force of his party’s supreme law. Douglas Mwonzora’s views about the express meaning of the clause relating to the death of the MDC-T’s president may be politically correct in a narrow sense but amounts to piecemeal reading of his party’s Constitution.

As such, his argument has been overtaken by events. Was the council decision not a lion’s way of frightening wolves that can potentially rule the MDC Alliance out of those gunning for the win? Further, the MDC-T did ratify Chamisa’s presidential candidature when it gave him the requisite apparatus which allows him to act for 12 months as the MDC-T’s President. Was it not behaving like Machiavelli’s fox, which reads political traps when the MDC-T obviously moved to prevent a power vacuum following the passing on of its former leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai?

A piecemeal interpretation of one clause of the party Constitution does not interest me and I do not think it will impress the custodians of our laws, the judges. I understand a warning has already been given that those in the MDC-T who wish to challenge Chamisa’s candidature such as Madam Khupe must not appeal to judge hyena.

Indeed, it does not make any political and legal sense to argue that Chamisa is not the preferred candidate for the MDC-T when his time-bound appointment was done pursuant to the party charter. It is trite that constitutions are interpreted holistically and generously as living documents.

Under multi-party democracy, the parties in opposition must not forget that they have been seen as a “feeble opposition, courtesy of the July 2013 elections that produced a super-majority ZANU-PF, a status that has its inherent dangers,” (Masunungure 2016). One of the dangers is that ZANU-PF may fail to focus on the benefits of the coalition and fall prey to Machiavellian traps.

The law of party and national politics lies in the constitutions. Before anyone sings about rigging; electoral petitions on reforms and so on; each party (including the supporters) must show that it is prepared to unite for the cause of good governance. Anything else is a recipe for political irrelevancy and defeat. The next article analyses the promises and tangibles, which the electorate can consume and use to decide to vote for political parties and their leaders.

Sharon Hofisi is a law lecturer.

Source :

The Herald

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