Opposition lacks internal democracy

Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Zanu-PF’S 2018 campaign is slowly gathering momentum. In a few months, it will be all systems go at every level. This will kick in what is considered the primary election season for the party. When done well, this is where the party wins elections. It is the recognition even at that level legitimacy comes from the people’s acceptance. The grassroots have to want someone as their candidate. They nominate their choice for the position and expect that person to successfully compete against the person on the opposite side. This is a tried and tested process. We will see how it helps build party momentum and support base.

As the prospective candidates who aspire to represent Zanu-PF in the National Assembly and local government elections next year quietly hit the ground, their opposite numbers in the opposition parties cannot do that because they don’t even know if they will be wasting their money.

They have no clue how their proposed coalitions will select candidates. In fact, they don’t even have a democratic process of selecting the person to front what their detractors have dubbed the “Grandiose Coalition”.

Mrs Mujuru having learnt a thing or two from Zanu-PF’s intra-party democracy proposed that primary elections be used to select those who would represent the opposition as the leader of the coalition. It was surprising to see how quickly that idea was shot down.

There were completely no takers. Why? Maybe because there is something in the accusations that these parties and their leaders who prance around like some high priests of democracy have no grain of democratic fibre in them. Why would they refuse an open and transparent process if they actually believe in same?

If by some freak miracle they win power what sort of governance will such people bring to our country and national institutions if they don’t believe in transparency and accountability? Maybe it’s time to look at claims above that Zanu-PF is Zimbabwe’s best chance at democracy compared to its opposition.

Zanu-PF has a robust internal contestation for positions which brings unparalleled vibrancy within the party. There is also a serious electoral turnover and anybody can be contested.

Those who were around a couple of decades ago would remember in 1995 when the late Retired Air Marshal Josiah Tungamirirai challenged a fellow luminary, the late VP Simon Muzenda, for the right to represent Gutu North constituency.

Whilst some might have frowned at this at the time, there is no question that the party espoused democratic ethos. The party has always had robust debate within itself. This is something alien to opposition parties because whenever they try to embrace internal debate, they split.

These parties that claim to be paragons of democracy need to develop their own formal rules and standards for choosing candidates. Without that we cannot expect parties with no thriving internal democracy to bring it to the nation.

They don’t involve citizens in the choice of candidates. They practise an elite presence. You cannot build a democratic state without intra-party democracy. So to expect MDC-T to all of a sudden run Zimbabwe democratically when there is no democracy within itself is expecting the impossible. After all, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm.

One would wonder why there is no effort by the opposition parties to bring primary elections to their selection of candidates yet there is a lot to be gained. The only reason that these opposition parties do not have internal democracies is because they are quite weak.

They are worried that any serious internal contestations will make them implode. This also is the serious fault line between these mishmash coalitions leading to the quick dismissal of Mrs Mujuru’s proposition in favour of an elitist choice of a leader and that of candidates. These parties clearly don’t embrace democracy at all.

It takes a formidable party to compete against itself and then come back together and converge against external challenges. Right now the incumbent MPs in Zanu-PF have already started their campaigns to retain their positions as the party representatives in 2018.

Even the poor performers are now visible on the ground. Their potential challengers are now also quietly on the ground campaigning. It means there are many programmes and projects running on the ground in the name of the party, right at grassroots level, besides the highly publicised star rallies.

So at ward level all people are seeing is Zanu-PF this, Zanu-PF that. It’s a wonder why people get surprised when the party gets landslides.

Those who followed the Zanu-PF Chiwundura primaries recently noticed that the seat was contested by 21 people. If the campaign season was longer it would mean that 21 people would have been canvassing for support in the name of the party.

After the primaries the party runs a strict, disciplined regime where all the losing candidates are expected to rally their heartbroken supporters behind the now official party candidate. And in nearly all cases they always do.

How can one person compete against 21? Because once the primary election is gone the opposition will be competing against people mobilised by 21 people who all had campaign teams. If that is applied to 210 constituencies in harmonised elections the outcome is phenomenal. This what is called aggregation of political interests.

This is not saying that everything is hunky-dory in Zanu-PF. There are certainly areas of improvement because there is always an effort by some to manipulate the process. But at least the framework is there. Heavyweights fall and rise again. Minions rise and rise. There are some equal opportunities in there.

If the opposition were to try it, they will fragment like never before. So they are in a conundrum really. Zanu-PF has proved over and over again that it is at home in the struggle of politics. But the opposition does not, hence you hear Nikuv this and that.

Their failure is also informed by the failure to adhere to democratic principles. Primary elections can have a negative effect on cohesion. It is only well- grounded parties that can stand their ground even after an 18-month-long primary campaign season.

And when citizen power is the norm in a political party it should be able to translate to other contests because real democracy should be a culture.

Zanu-PF runs an open and inclusive approach. In a recent meeting with the Secretary for Administration this columnist was comforted to hear him say the default position is that any bona fide party member who puts their name forward for selection should be allowed to be considered by the electorate.

Disqualification will be the exception. Party leaders will play a very peripheral role in the selection of candidates as they fight for their own positions. Regardless there will always be some leaders that will try to impose themselves in the process but they should be reminded that mass-driven candidate selection is an enhancer of democratic processes.

Will some opposition leaders ever let go of candidate selection? There is one we all know would not. For he uses it for patronage and censuring those he believes are too ambitious for his insecurities.

They have concentrated the selection of candidates within a small elite of an inner circle. Clearly, the movements that pretend to advocate for a democratic change have a problem with democracy. But they have to know that the only reason they have a benign uninspiring leadership is because they have no internal democratic processes.

If this columnist is wrong, then we should see from the leader of the so-called coalitions to all their election candidates subjected to an elective process. But the reader should not hold their breath. The opposition has a chronic weakness and would not dare go for democracy.

To mask this weakness and the knowledge that they cannot suffer robust internal contestations, they pick fights with everyone to mask their weaknesses. Today, no day goes by without a statement from the opposition trying to interfere with the work of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Hello, it’s an independent commission so it doesn’t take recommendations from you. But they pick a fight with them anyway. If they don’t do that they will turn on each other very quickly.

Primary elections are a source of anxiety among the incumbents. There is already a gnashing of teeth with everyone wondering who is eyeing their seat. Mass participation in candidate selection in Zanu-PF should be applauded and would benefit the whole democracy if every party would do it. It is the prerogative of the people to grant or withhold legitimacy.

With the election campaigns starting everywhere in Zimbabwe, one hopes that the people would be told what to vote for and not who to vote against. For if they vote against someone, the nation will face a day it asks itself what it would have voted for.

The politics of emotion and victimhood is never what will take Zimbabwe forward. Those that resent democracy within their own systems should not be expected all of a sudden to embrace democracy at a national level.

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