Reflections on parliamentarism

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
On Sunday June 30, the world celebrated International Day of Parliamentarism. First celebrated on June 30, 2018, the day recognises the role of parliaments globally as cornerstones of democracy.

June 30 was chosen as the International Day of Parliamentarism by the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution adopted on May 22, 2018, to coincide with the day in 1889, about 130 years ago, that the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) an organisation that comprises global parliaments was founded.

Zimbabwe joined 192 other nations to commemorate the Day in celebration of parliaments and the ways in which parliamentary systems of government improve the day-to-day lives of citizens the world over. The Day also accords parliamentarians an opportunity to take stock of the journey travelled, identify challenges, and map ways to address them effectively.

Representative government pervades modern politics with every country in the world having a form of parliamentary representation. There are two categories of parliamentary systems; bicameral (having two chambers of parliament), and unicameral (having one chamber or assembly). Out of the globe’s 193 countries, 114 are unicameral and 79 are bicameral. Zimbabwe, whose parliamentary system is split into National Assembly and Senate is bicameral.

The Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament founded in 930AD is the oldest parliament.

Why are parliaments important?

If parliaments are strong they become the bedrock of democracy in global politics. Parliamentarians are the voice of their constituents, whose expectations and aspirations they carry and project in the august House, thus, they represent the people.

A nation is as good as its justice system, for bad or hastily effected laws cause acrimony and hatred among citizens, thus, leading to civil strife. As one of their oversight roles, parliamentarians pass laws, and such laws are reflective of the cultural, historical, religious and political issues prevailing in any particular country.

Since the law reflects on justice, in its many facets, due care should be taken in the enactment of laws, hence, parliamentarians are crucial, as they shed light on aspects of what constitutes legality and illegality from a well-informed point of view. In a strong non-polarised parliament, the voice of the people carries the day, as parliamentarians soberly, selflessly and articulately debate on their constituents’ behalf.

For justice to prevail, laws should be constantly reviewed, and amended where necessary to be in tandem with changing trends in jurisprudence, and close any gaps that may be manipulated by unscrupulous elements, either for political expediency or personal grandiose.

However, parliamentarians should be alive to the need to avoid enacting laws that have been proven to work in other jurisdictions, as they may not serve the same purpose in their respective situations, since nations are not culturally uniform.

It is the duty of parliament to allocate funds, implement laws and policies, and hold government to account for the common good of all citizens, where equal opportunities in access to education, jobs, healthcare and financial security are created. The vulnerable of our societies, like children, women and those living with disability should be protected through enactment of just laws and implementation of watertight policies. Therefore, parliamentarians are important in this regard, as they carefully examine every item brought for debate in parliament.

Although parliaments are crucial in heightening national agendas, they are mindful of the fact that they do not implement such agendas in a vacuum, hence, the need to link up with international agendas. The Parliament of Zimbabwe, for example, ensures that the Government implements international treaties and agreements signed up to, so that our Vision 2030 Agenda dovetails with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Conflict, especially that which culminates in wars, and other violent confrontations, is known to be devastating on socio-political and socio-economic landscapes, which may take forever to redress, especially so when spirituality and psychosis are put into consideration, as such robust parliamentary systems can come handy in ascertaining peaceful transitions to functional democracy by fostering dialogue and cooperation as a way of healing past wounds.

Where do parliamentarians derive their power from?

In a democracy, parliamentarians derive their power from the people, who elect them. Hence, citizens have an obligation to question the way they are governed and/or represented.

Every citizen has a constitutional right to seek representation either in the Executive or the Legislature, which right should be respected and be upheld in a democratic manner.

Montesquieu (1689-1755) puts democracy in context thus: “As in a country of liberty, every man who is supposed a free agent ought to be own governor; the legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people.

“But since this is impossible in large states, and in small ones is subject to many inconveniences, it is fit the people should transact by their representatives what they cannot transact by themselves.” (cited in Held, 2006: 66)

The people are a crucial component in a democracy, as such, it is from them that the Legislature derives its power; not that the Legislature is a vital component on its own.

The Legislature needs the people as much as the masses require representatives for their transactions.

Because politics is rooted in self-interest and not always the desire to serve the people, the tendency is that the elected; the supposed representatives of the people usually forget about the electorate the moment they are hoisted onto the platform of the gravy train, and by the time they embark, and the whistle blows as the locomotive is set in motion on its voyage of doom, the electorate would have been obliterated from their memory; until of course election time comes around again.

There are some legislators who are known to contribute nothing; nothing at all, for the entire life of a parliament. They just make up the numbers without a care in the world about the impoverished constituents they are supposed to represent. They would rather eat on their behalf, and ask them to endure their suffering as a necessary trait of life.

It has occurred on several occasions in Zimbabwe that when issues to do with citizens’ welfare are raised for discussion; the bread and butter issues, some of our representatives, who should be transacting on our behalf, walk out of the august House. Yes, they walk out en masse, without giving a hoot to the repercussions of such behaviour in future, because the feeling is that they are not accountable to anyone, least of all the people, who elected them.

They may even absent themselves when they know that a quorum is required for proceedings to be valid. Even ministers deliberately avoid question and answer sessions, to the detriment of the entire nation. Due to political immaturity, which splits them into separate camps, instead of functioning as a unit, our legislators find the energy to boo each other, nay undress each other; never reaching consensus on anything of national significance.

Always raising this issue or that; kindergarten fashion often-times. But, gosh, the moment the gravy tureen is stirred, they growl for their welfare with such conspicuous connivance that puts the devil to shame. All differences momentarily forgotten, our supposed representatives clamour for their grub in unison.

It is always about them, and not about the people. What happened then to servant leadership epitomised by our listening President? Our parliamentarians evoke timeless encounters in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945).

You may recall this incident fellow countrymen, citizens and friends, when Squealer, the pigs’ propagandist par excellence, is at pains to convince the animals that milk and apples that the leaders take are good for brainworkers the pigs.

“Comrades!” he cried, “You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health.

“Milk and apples (this has been proved by science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig.

“We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples.”

Such is the nature of representation, when all animals are equal, and some are more equal than others.

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