Elections, promises and cheap politicking

18 Jun, 2018 - 00:06 0 Views
Elections, promises and cheap politicking MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa being interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC Hardtalk

The Herald

Reason Wafawarova on Monday
WITH just a few weeks before the elections on July 30, presidential candidates might feel tempted to promise the world to still-undecided voters, and we have already heard of some outrageous promises in the run-up to this election; some that do not even rise to the level of nonsense.

Even outright lies have found their way into the campaign as some aspirants try too hard to impress the crowds.

With so many promises made to so many constituencies over the course of the campaign so far, the hope of the politician is that the electorate is bound to either forgive or forget some of the promises when they get ignored or contradicted after the election; in the event the promising politician makes it to victory.

Indeed voters are bound to forgive or forget some of the pledges made during elections, but some promises are so big and essential that breaking them will not be easily forgivable.

Nelson Chamisa knows that not many voters will take him to task so he can bring promised bullet trains to Zimbabwe any time soon, or to construct airports next to every village in the country as he literally promised at one of his rallies; saying; “you will just wake up with an airport next to your house, everyone of you.”

Most likely people will just forget such joke promises as soon as the election is over. It is very rare for common jokers to win elections in the first place.

But I digress.

Such promises as creating jobs, resolving the cash crisis within a couple of weeks, or industrialising the country; will not just go away with the end of the campaign season.

These are critical matters the electorate is concerned about, and any promises made will have to be fulfilled.

The US presidential election in 1916 pitted then incumbent president Woodrow Wilson against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

While Wilson was in office, conflict erupted in Europe to become what would be World War I. Although Americans generally supported Allied powers, voters wanted the United States to remain out of the conflict.

To capitalise on public opinion on this issue, Wilson campaigned on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Months after winning re-election, Wilson went to Congress to approve a declaration of war with Germany and its allies. Wilson had campaigned on the implicit promise of American neutrality in World War I, but he never explicitly stated he would never lead the United States to join the war.

We have already seen the duplicity in some of our politicians. We have heard Chamisa singling out the Chinese as undesirable investors in our country, and even threatening to kick them out should he win Election 2018. But how feasible is kicking out Chinese economic incursions for a country like Zimbabwe when economic powerhouses in the West are failing to do so? Would Chamisa be able to kick out Chinese investors? Would he actually want to do that?

Equally every aspiring politician wants to promise some super-solution to the Gukurahundi tragedy, from bringing justice for the victims to compensation of victims and many other promises. But how many of these promising politicians exactly mean what they are promising, or are actually committed to carrying out their promises? This is a very important question.

Herbert Hoover was America’s 31st president who was at the White House between 1929 and 1933. Before he was elected he allegedly promised “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Doesn’t this sound familiar?

We have heard about “eight lanes one way traffic freeways instead of dualisation,” and we have been told of cargo aeroplanes ferrying farm produce from our villages where airports will be next to every house.

Herbert Hoover gave a clear vision of the prosperity he envisaged for the United States, the very way Chamisa’s supporters say the young politician has a vision for the envisaged prosperity for Zimbabwe. The tenor of Chamisa’s campaign promises is one of untold glories where all Zimbabweans will live happily ever after.

Hardly a year after Hoover took office, the stock market crashed phenomenally, and 1929 heralded the Great Depression, the longest and deepest period of economic decline in the 20th Century. There was no chicken in every pot; nor a car in every garage as had been promised. People became furious and that is why Hoover became a one-term president.

Amid a depression with no end in sight, Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned in 1932 on a promise of putting the nation back to work. Roosevelt criticised Hoover’s inability to restore the nation to prosperity and even ridiculed the ballooning of the deficit under the Hoover administration.

Upon taking office, however, Roosevelt’s New Deal programs dramatically increased the federal budget deficit far beyond the levels achieved by his predecessor.

Upon taking over from Robert Mugabe, President Mnangagwa has come up with his own version of New Deal, liberalising the economy and opening Zimbabwe for business with foreign investors. Will the people of Zimbabwe support his initiative, as did the Americans when Roosevelt took over from the bungling Herbert Hoover?

July 30 will soon provide the answer to that.

The people of America went on to elect Roosevelt four times, all the way up to 1945. He remains rated among the top three US presidents ever, alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Like Wilson, Roosevelt maintained a policy of neutrality at the outbreak of World War II, and campaigned on the issue. Unlike Wilson, however, Roosevelt was unambiguous in his 1940 campaign declaration: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

One year later, Roosevelt would go back on the promise and lead the United States into war in response to the attacks on Pearl Harbour.

Following his assumption of the office of president after the assassination of John F Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson was up for re-election in 1964 against Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.

As his administration was making plans to escalate war in Vietnam, Johnson declared that his administration would not send ground troops into Vietnam. Months after being sworn in to another term of office, Johnson broke his promise, a move that lost him support with the public.

We know that Obama promised to end both the Iraq and Afghanistan war in his 2008 campaign. While he made significant efforts to end the Iraq war, he escalated the Afghanistan war soon after taking office, drone bombing scores of innocent civilians in the process. We are not going to talk about his failure to close Guantanamo Bay Prison, which he promised he would close in his first 100 days in office.

Donald Trump promised among other things to build a high wall on the border with Mexico, at Mexico’s cost. He has since stopped talking about the wall all together. He knows he cannot carry out his promise to build the “beautiful wall”.

In 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned for the presidency with a pledge to end the war in Vietnam that had been launched and administered by previous Democratic administrations. There were even reports that Nixon had a “secret plan” to end the war without the United States being perceived as the losing side.

Instead, Nixon continued to press American forces in Vietnam, resulting in an increase in combat deaths within just the first six months of Nixon assuming office. He became highly unpopular, and he too became a one-term president.

In 1988, in his speech at the Republican National Convention to accept the Republican nomination for the presidency, George H.W. Bush made what might be the most famous broken promise in US presidential history: “Read my lips: No new taxes,” he said.

The phrase proved catchy and helped propel Bush to victory.

Full article on www.herald.co.zw

Unfortunately, upon taking office, Bush inherited a national deficit from the previous administration, and with a Congress controlled by the opposition, had to raise taxes. The broken promise proved one of the major contributors for his failure to win re-election in 1992. He joined the list of one-term presidents.

There are a number of lessons we learn from these examples. The first is that campaign promises are often made to suit perceived public opinion. It is perceived that Robert Mugabe’s nationalist policies alienated Zimbabwe from investors, and we have heard promises that the country is reforming its economic policies to attract foreign direct investment. There are a raft of promises made from across the political divide to prove a departure from the Mugabe era policies.

It is a fact that unemployment is critically high in the country and politicians across the divide have promised to create massive employment opportunities for everyone of working age. Easier said than done of course.

Infrastructure dilapidation of the past two decades is undeniable, and we have heard lofty promises of how the country is going to be revamped into a hub of massive infrastructural development in the next few years, if only we vote some politicians into power, as African politicians prefer to call it.

We know the status of our hospitals has deteriorated acutely over the years, and we have been told that medical staff will have the dignity of their profession restored, and that there will be medicines and all other health facilities in abundance, once certain of our politicians are elected into office.

We have been told that our education system will be revived to its former glory, or even be bettered. We have been told our agrarian sector will be back to the status of being Africa’s breadbasket.

Every politician worthy the name knows the problems bedevilling the country, as much they know the expectations of the public. So it is not an issue to come up with popular promises as we have been hearing lately.

But we have also seen that not every promise made by politicians is fulfilled, not every promise is pursued after the election, and also not every promise will be kept. Many promises have been broken upon assuming office.

From promising to “totally destroy” North Korea we have seen Donald Trump in negotiations with Kim Jong Un. No wall is likely ever going to be built on the Mexican border with the United States, and certainly not one funded by the Mexicans. That was just one populist racist promise that brought in the votes.

The issue of cheap broken promises by aspiring politicians is what Steven Suckur of the BBC was looking at when he quizzed Nelson Chamisa on some of his lofty promises, with Suckur even labelling some of the promises “silly” and “nonsense.”

It is this writer’s hope that as we approach July 30, voters will find it in their wisdom to sift through cheap politicking and pursue the direction that will not only halt our economic decline of the last two decades, but will also help us to quickly recover to the economic growth befitting the status of our great nation.

For President we need a mature visionary with the wisdom to navigate our way back to economic prosperity without being distracted by excitement and the pursuit for self-glory.

Zimbabwe does not need a political messiah at the moment. We need a nation builder who knows how to organise collective effort for the betterment of the country.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

  • Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia

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