The right to recall underperformers

Elections are the cornerstone of democracy but how democratic are elections? Democracy, like any other political system has it’s deficiencies; think of the numerous polls in which the candidates put forward to the electorate are as rubbish as each other yet a choice still has to be made even if that meant choosing between a slave master and a slave driver.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of most representative democracies today is not formally acknowledging a situation like one just illustrated. As such people are expected to make a choice regardless, those whose choice is to stay at home and not vote do not count in the outcome of democratic elections yet their influence on the outcome cannot be denied. Worse still, in most of the current democracies wrong or mistaken choices, barring extremities, are not recognised or not acted upon till the next elections.

No wonder Mthwakazi’s elected ‘representatives’ have the audacity to literally live in Zimbabwe’s capital only visiting their constituencies once in a while to reaffirm and validate scriptures from their masters’ 1979 Grand Plan. Mthwakazians are undermined by their elected ‘representatives’ who are quick to remind their long suffering electorate that they are not being discriminated against; instead they are willing victims of their laziness! These unhelpful leaders have nothing to fear, nothing curtails their arrogance in between elections. Currently, besides muted complaints there is not a lot people can do but wait for the next election if the elected minion propagandist (MP) does not succumb to natural causes. Months ago a Mthwakazian politician suggested the ‘right to recall’ being used in Mthwakazi; in my last blog I hinted on the ‘right to reject’.

Now, the ‘right to recall’ is an interesting proposition but let me briefly touch on the ‘right to reject’. The ‘right to reject’ is the formal recognition of people’s right to refuse given choices. At the moment most democracies do not formally acknowledge the possibility there may be fundamentally nothing for people to choose from which has been the case in the Zimbabwe ruled Mthwakazi. The lack of recognition of that right leads to what is conveniently dismissed as ‘voter apathy’; a term used to justify the undemocratic nature of democracy that at times allows candidates gaining as little as 35 percent of votes cast (or even lower were we to consider the votes won against all registered voters) the mandate to lead. People should be given the chance to vote to reject available candidates. It would be interesting to see how many people formally rejected the candidates presented to them often undemocratically by political parties each election.

The ‘right to recall’ was first used in the USA in 1903 and refers to a process whereby the electorate supposedly have an opportunity to remove under performing representatives. I say ‘supposedly’ because in reality politicians and not the electorate still retain a significant measure of control over the process through setting of minimum standards (e.g. a certain signature threshold) to be met before a recall election itself is conducted. In the right to recall, the electorate can petition to trigger a vote on the suitability of an existing elected representative to continue in office. In most cases the right only rescinds a previous decision (to elect the office bearer) by the electorate.

There are variations in the process and form between countries that employ it and it is fair to say the process is less extensively and less frequently used. In Switzerland recall is only employed at cantonal level with 26 cantons (member states of the federal state of Switzerland) having recall provisions for the cantonal parliaments while in the USA recall is provided for in only 19 states. Recalls have largely been ineffectual; at state level only two governors have been successfully recalled (Lynn J. Frazier, North Dakota in 1921 and Gray Davis, California in 2003). Notably, the Davis recall was the only successful recall of a governor out of a total of 32 attempts in California.

Recall gives the electorate real power to remove elected representatives. Fear of being recalled arguably encourages incumbents to meet minimum standards of behaviour; more significantly the electorate does not have to wait for the next election to remove poorly performing representatives. However, there is always a fear that recall could be abused and used as a political tool with marginal seats being targets of organised campaigns. Arguably, recalls can discourage necessary yet unpopular decisions to be made and more importantly the costs associated with recall are prohibitive yet the benefits are not guaranteed especially in cases where an official may be removed for political decisions restricted by factors beyond the control of individual elected representatives.

I think the right to recall gives the electorate a real opportunity to remove elected representatives. There is however, no evidence that recall increases accountability and responsiveness of elected representatives neither is there evidence that evoking mandates to remove elected representatives disrupts politics. Although I think it is a costly process with uncertain benefits which perhaps hardly justifies its adoption, it would not be a bad idea for an independent Mthwakazi to adopt recall at certain levels of governance if only to encourage increased political participation from a largely apathetic electorate. For me it would be vital for Mthwakazi to formally recognise and acknowledge the fact that some candidates may simply not be good enough; the right to reject will address that by giving Mthwakazians the right to reject bad choices installed by political organisations or even wealthy individuals registering themselves as candidates.

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