The disconnect in electoral democracy
Reason Wafawarova on Monday
Every four years the world is drawn to watch in awe as the United States chooses their next president, even to the point of fanatically following the bi-partisan primary election races, prominent of which have been the Obama-Clinton race and the Trump-Ted Cruz race of 2008 and 2016 respectively.
You meet a random person on the streets of Sydney or Harare, and they just ask, “Who is your choice between Trump and Clinton?” They assume you care, and you have a choice, regardless of you not being American.
To many across the world the American presidential race is the compendium of democracy.
Though often impassioned almost to the point of hysteria, these electoral races hardly represent healthy democratic impulses.
After the fall of Soviet Union in 1989, monopoly capitalism, otherwise commonly known as imperialism, became the driving economic force behind the politics of democracy. This system encourages people to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. It separates the politicians and the voters as two entities with two separate and specific mandates, one to ratify the rule of the other.
Essentially, the election becomes just another sophisticated method of marginalising the population.
Whether it is Barack Obama leading the race or Donald Trump, each US election comes with a huge propaganda campaign meant to condition people to focus on these gigantic personalised quadrennial extravaganzas, as we will be seeing in 2020, after what we saw in the 2016 race that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
When people are subjected to these massive public relations shows they are all meant to think that what is going on “is politics”.
When we had our elections pitting 23 presidential candidates and hundreds of aspiring MPs and councillors last year, we saw exciting rallies held by the MDC Alliance and ZANU-PF. We called that politics.
Our electorate and election observers from the global community were both conditioned to think what was going on was politics. In fact, this is not politics per se. It is only a very small and almost irrelevant part of politics.
The election came and went, and so did the election mood, except from the head of one bitterness smitten Nelson Chamisa – on account of his inexplicable conviction that he won the election despite what the figures said, what ZEC announced, what the observers said, and what the country’s apex court ruled.
He has organised post-election rallies, gate-crashed funerals, church services, private conferences and many other gathering opportunities to grab the microphone and tell it to all who care to listen that he was robbed by Emmerson Mnangagwa in a conspiracy involving ZEC, the Constitutional Court and whoever else agrees with the election result, or recognises it.
We continue to watch this tantrum throwing drama and we call it politics. Now Chamisa is heading for an internal electoral contest likely to pit him against Douglas Mwonzora for the leadership of their rechristened MDCA party, and the dirty shenanigans leading up to the May congress are what we call politics.
When the people rose in the human rights movement of the sixties, the US ruling elite did not call it politics but rebellion. When the people of Zimbabwe rose to repossess their colonially stolen lands from those who unjustly occupied it, the global ruling elites running the affairs of imperialism in our time did not call it politics but lawlessness and barbarism. When workers rise against the employers to improve their welfare, capitalism does not call it politics but lawlessness.
When the masses rise in anger against their own oppression and marginalisation, we call it rebellion, not politics.
When sponsored activists rise against governments that are viewed as enemies of imperialism, the Western authorities will call that politics, like how they view Juan Guaido’s thousands of supporters in Caracas, Venezuela.
The other thousands in support of the incumbent Maduro government are not doing politics in the eyes of the West. These are enemies of democracy, hard-core hardliners who support a dictatorial tyrant. Or so we are told.
Good politics is when opposition activists in Zimbabwe barricade roads, torch tollgates, police stations, cars, buses, and beat up other citizens for “legitimising” the incumbent Government by reporting for work.
When those accused of organising and spearheading this violence are arrested and brought before the courts we are told the Government is exercising its political power in an irresponsible manner. The crimes become “political crimes” and the court trials become “political persecution”.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was never reported as playing good politics when they organised strikes to get reasonable wages in 1981 and 1982. They were not hailed as playing good politics when they protested against the IMF-prescribed Esap in the early nineties. Not even the massively ruinous 1997 food riots earned the ZCTU the title of playing “good politics”.
It is when the ZCTU rose against a peasant-pleasing Government during the land reclamation phase of 2000 that they became internationally recognised political players. Suddenly our ZCTU became a renowned pro-democracy movement. The likes of Wellington Chibhebhe found themselves flying across the world to mingle and mix with the West’s “democratic community”.
Likewise, Cosatu of South Africa was considered playing good politics for its anti-government stance in 2008, and not necessarily for championing the cause of the workers they represented. Cosatu as an ally of freedom-seeking ANC was never hailed as playing good politics. They were jailed as terrorists.
For accepting Western funding and championing the stage-managed democracy and human rights campaign on behalf of their financiers, the ZCTU has earned itself the title of international political players. Americans love them for their utility in the imperial agenda.
They just impressively organised the deadly January 14 demonstrations on behalf of the MDC Alliance, and the only bad thing that happened with that project is how the police and the army ruined the intended goal. The vandalism by the sponsored thugs was commendable and part of the strategy.
The soldiers and police details are the murderers and rapists we keep reading about in the papers, albeit with hardly any identity of the said victims.
Let us go back to electoral democracy.
Electoral democracy has carefully excluded the population from political activity, and that is not by accident. The imperial authority has invested a lot of money and has put an enormous amount of work into that disenfranchisement campaign.
As already cited, the outbursts of popular participation in democracy that shook the US in the 1960s terrified the sectors of privilege and power, namely the rich owners of multinational companies and their running mates in political offices. These people mounted a fierce counter-campaign, taking various forms, until today.
In the US, Obama, Clinton and the late McCain could run because they were funded by similar concentrations of private power – centres of power that are supporting client political parties across the world; parties such as Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC Alliance.
Of course, Donald Trump rode on xenophobia and racism, although his interests and preferences do coincide with those of the imperial order. Our puppet politicians here adore him embracingly, and they will take his racism as absolutely harmless, if only he can strangulate our economy until everyone revolts against ZANU-PF.
Candidates sponsored by the imperial sector do understand that the election is supposed to stay away from the issues.
For those in the West the election is supposed to stay away from such issues as the Iraq War and Afghanistan War, or if it does dwell on such issues, it must interrogate why the US-led Western alliance was not winning, not why they were illegally occupying these weaker countries.
For the MDC Alliance and its leader Nelson Chamisa, the electorate must stay away from issues like the biting economic sanctions illegally imposed on the country by the West. If they do, they must say the issue is not economic sanctions but human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, substantiated or not.
The election must stay away from the injustice of the pre-2000 land tenure system where 75 percent of arable land was in the hands of a few privileged white farmers. It must stay away from colonial evils and atrocities of the armed struggle, like Nyadzonia or Chimoio.
If we do talk about the armed struggle, then only the dead of the liberation fighters must be hailed because they are not contesting our opposition in politics. All the surviving veterans are inherently evil unless they are on the side of our opposition.
If the election does dwell on the sanctions issue then the electorate must be told that sanctions are nothing more than mere travel bans on President Mnangagwa and his undemocratic cronies.
If the election cannot ignore the land issue then the electorate must be told that the process was chaotic, the resettled farmers lack the competence and skills to farm, and that all the land acquired is in the hands of corrupt ZANU-PF human rights abusers.
Political candidates sponsored by the imperialist ruling elite are just creatures of the public relations industry, which keeps people out of the real political process.
The task of such candidates is to focus attention on the candidates’ personal qualities and not on policies, when they are not focusing on demonising their political competitors – normally viewed as anti-imperialist, socialist or whatever thing which does not comply with the imperial order.
Such political competitors become by definition dictators, despots, tyrants, murderers, or authoritarians, like what we hear about Nicholas Maduro.
This way, the voters are often made to end up endorsing an image, not a platform.
So we see this “Chamisa Chete Chete” image that says the man is invincible to the point of being exempted from competition, and must and will win any election he may so wish to contest. Such fanatical idolisation of politicians has no room in a true democracy, but I digress.
The Western media did all in its power to create the image of democracy in the person of Tsvangirai and his MDC for 18 years – that despite the man’s questionable record of dictatorial tendencies within his own party. That was neither a mistake nor an accident. It was the strategy.
From 1999, former president Robert Mugabe created a platform for self-determination, independent nationalism, sovereignty and economic empowerment – and for his efforts the West awarded him the dictator’s notorious label.
The West did all in its power to thwart the platform for black empowerment in Zimbabwe while promoting the vainglorious image of democracy through imaging Tsvangirai as an icon of freedom and liberties. His successor is hardly democratic, given how he took over after Tsvangirai’s death, but he counts himself a shining democrat.
The vocation of propagandists that sell political candidates in the West and their stooges in the developing world is just like that of industry selling commodities.
Business devotes enormous time in coming up with advertisements that do not convey information, but rather create illusions and deceit in order to fool consumers into making irrational choices.
Much the same method is used to undermine the platform for true democracy by simply keeping the electorate uninformed and mired in delusion and misinformation.
We are in the process of re-engaging with the West right now, and the partnerships we are pursuing are meant to allow our resettled farmers and our small-scale miners an opportunity to grow commercially.
Democracy is about the local people being involved in the main means of economic production within their own country. Democracy is about creating a welfare economy that looks after the people who work in the production sector and their dependants.
For us Zimbabweans, democracy has a foundation. We went to war to fight for democracy. This country is founded on democracy. The war of liberation was all about majority rule.
It was about social justice, equality, fair opportunity, and sovereignty. We fought for self-determination and that is our understanding of democracy. Our elections must be founded and administered on these principles. This is politics, not just electioneering and voting.
We cannot create an image of democracy that is built on electioneering alone. That is not what we fought for. Our people need to participate more in the affairs of our country than just voting and attending political rallies.
True democracy means our leaders must convince us on their role and our role in economic production. The question to be answered is where and how will you get the money to fund your promises as an aspiring leader, not just what will you do if we vote for you. Anyone can claim to be a miracle performer, and democracy isn’t that cheap.
It is misleading when one says ZEC is killing democracy. The role of ZEC is to administer elections, and elections are not in and of themselves democracy, much as they are a significant component of it.
Internationally the people killing democracy are the people who will strangulate the economies of countries they do not agree with. We saw it with the isolation of Cuba for so many years, and we see it today with Venezuela. We have our own experience here running into 20 years now, and we have suffered without doubt the ruin of economic strangulation by a determined superpower.
If democracy has been assaulted, the real assault has not come from ZANU-PF, as our opposition here says.
If democracy could be personified and brought to a world court, she would testify how the United States and her allies have assaulted her without remorse for the past 74 years. It would be shocking if democracy would cry loud against Zimbabwe, at least on a comparative basis.
The main task in achieving democracy is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral propaganda and extravaganzas, whatever their outcome. Democracy does not necessarily come because the outcome of the Zimbabwe election has produced a win for the opposition.
That is just Chamisa’s misinformed idea of democracy, and it does not deserve intellectual attention.
Democracy is a continuous process that ensures a popular platform for the empowerment of the generality of the population is created.
This empowerment is obviously measurable by access to basic welfare as well as control of the means of production by the people who are considered the rightful owners of the resources within the country in question.
Making people to vote for relief from sanctions is not democracy. It is just a game of deceit and illusion, and all it does is lead people into making irrational choices. Once elections involve foreign-imposed sanctions the first enemy to fall is the foreigner, and then the horse he is riding. That is why we need a truly homegrown opposition.
Having said that, this writer will assert that elections still remain relevant as the only platform to make sensible choices, even in a climate of serious politicking and demagoguery.
They are part of politics and not the politics. They are part of democracy and not the democracy. They are essentially useful inasmuch as they are dangerously manipulable.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia