The myth of political space saturation in Zimbabwe

Some Zimbabweans say there is no more room for another political party; I say there is enough room to accommodate any number of political parties. People argue that having many political parties has a vote splitting effect that presents victory to ZANU PF. Zimbabweans feel the MDC-T stands a better chance of defeating ZANU PF in an election hence deserves a clear run. I wonder if the removal of ZANU PF, convenient as it might be, is the long-term solution to Zimbabwe’s political and connected problems. Can we assume that the ‘departure’ of ZANU PF from and the ‘arrival’ of the MDC-T at State House will usher in a socio-political culture that will not be insanely resistant to political opposition, a culture receptive to ideological opposition and difference? Should the clean up of Zimbabwe’s apparent socio-political mess be entrusted on a single political party?

For as long as existing political parties are unresponsive to the needs of some Zimbabweans then there is room for more parties to provide relevant choice for all Zimbabweans. Restricting the number of political parties just to increase chances of defeating ZANU PF deprives individuals of political choice and representation and is undemocratic. I believe political parties should primarily exist to serve the interests of the electorate not merely to win elections. Arguably, an election victory gives a political party a mandate to implement their plans yet political parties can still bear influence on issues of both local and national interest even if they were not in government for as long as the socio-political culture is permissive. At the moment the socio-political landscape is unreceptive to difference and that needs changing immediately.

I have argued in the past that vote splitting in Zimbabwean elections while a genuine risk presented by having many political parties is largely an unwanted by-product of the first-past-the-post voting system. It is perhaps the voting system and not the number of opposition political parties Zimbabweans should be worrying about. Certainly we should worry too about the following ZANU PF still possesses when it has undoubtedly run down the country in all respects. Is ZANU PF’s support base a reflection of the socio-political culture of Zimbabwe or a reflection of the opposition? For instance is the electorate politically informed; how seriously do people take their individual votes and voting; is the MDC-T dynamic and sophisticated enough to accommodate within it’s structures the diverse interests of the Zimbabwean population?

The current desire among many Zimbabweans is the removal of ZANU PF. This is a rather narrow focus. I agree that ZANU PF has been the architect of the problems Zimbabwean politics faces today. However, the contribution of the international community and the Zimbabwean electorate in the first 18 years of independence should not go unnoticed. If the international community has been complicit in ZANU PF’s excesses, Zimbabweans, including many who now grace the opposition, are guilty of voting along ethnic lines, of not seeking a major civic society participation in determining the direction of the country thereby surrendering all power to politicians, of not demanding accountability from their poorly performing politicians.

Indeed it is a mystery how many members of parliament from some parts of the country have been able to retain their posts election after election when performances have clearly not been up to expected standards (even by the standards the politicians have set themselves), when promises have been flagrantly broken and when some of these members of parliament have hardly been resident in their constituencies. Is it the deficient socio-political environment that is guilty of creating the monster that is the ZANU PF leadership or the mundane socio-political environment is the calculated by-product of ZANU PF’s leadership? I believe for Zimbabwean politics to be brought back to normalcy and be maintained there, increased non partisan civic society participation to provide checks and balance in state power is essential. Politicians should never have been trusted to regulate themselves in the first place; that power has to be wrestled away from them by a better organised civic society.

The priority in Zimbabwean politics today should be the reformation of the political landscape in which there is a genuine shift in the power balance between the electorate and the politicians and the state is not allowed to run amok but compelled to be accountable to the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans should be able to call back non performing members of parliament not for politicians to set themselves fixed terms in office; performance not self-crafted contracts should be the determinants of how long an individual keeps their post. As already pointed out in the previous paragraph, only increased and genuine civic society participation will provide the vital checks and balance needed in Zimbabwe’s politics. I do not believe neither the removal of ZANU PF nor the MDC-T victory alone will provide a real solution to Zimbabwe’s political problems. Looking at the MDC-T, there is not much evidence to suggest the party is in itself democratic let alone suggest there is interest to actively involve its ordinary supporters in major decision-making processes. I personally, cannot entrust the country’s democratic aspirations to a political organisation whose own democratic credentials are questionable.

Zimbabweans should not be preoccupied with restricting political participation and/ or political choice rather they should be looking at changing the first-past-the-post voting system. It is the current voting system that lends itself to vote splitting and the wastage of some votes. Even more important is the fostering of an active socio-political environment that is positively responsive and equally tolerant to ideological opposition and difference. I have argued here that it is the genuine civic society participation, not the ZANU PF defeat or the MDC-T victory that holds the key to a long lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s political troubles.

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