The debate surrounding the primary elections, candidate confirmation process and perceived dictatorial tendencies of the executive of both MDCs in the selection of party candidates for the forthcoming general election raises important questions for the parties’ internal democracy. Any perceptions of a flagrant break of democratic processes in primaries risk damaging the MDCs’ reputation and undermining their electoral appeal.
Who should hold sway in the candidate selection process? Should party members be responsible for selecting local candidates or the executive should have the final word on who represents the party? How justified is the election of ‘outsiders’ to represent a party in a particular constituency?
In an ideal world, all candidates would be elected by popular vote by party members in their constituencies but the reality is such that other competing political and social interests may dictate that the party executive favour certain candidates over others. For instance, desirable socio-political needs such as addressing gender inequality, and needs for ethnic, racial, religious reconfiguration of the State institutions may dictate the necessity for promoting certain candidates over others. It can be argued that the democratically elected party executive is mandated by its followers to make decisions including the difficult and/ or unpopular ones.
Another point of worry is the apparent imposition of ‘outsiders’ in winnable constituencies. This may be difficult for locals to appreciate, for instance there have been reservations over the apparent imposition of Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga as an MDC candidate for Umzingwane in the forthcoming general elections. On the surface, dropping candidates on constituents, albeit with little explanation, appears morally and politically wrong but the reality is that talent is not evenly distributed across all political regions.
For logistical reasons having a locally resident representative makes the best option yet local candidates may not necessarily guarantee the best option for a party’s and the constituency’s current needs. The question that needs addressing is whether a person who is not a local to an area can adequately represent their adopted constituency. Arguably, it is not impossible but I believe there is a need for political parties to clarify the selection process beforehand to their followers especially explaining the possibilities of having representatives who may not ordinarily be resident in the constituency.
The importation or exportation of candidates from one region to another may appear as a betrayal of the founding principles of the MDC; the party strongly subscribes to the principle of devolution of powers to regions. The interpretation of devolution of power by ordinary people is that locals should have visible control of their institutions including appointing locals for local roles.
The party justifies the sensitive nomination of Misihairabwi-Mushonga for Umzingwane on the grounds that she has connections to the region through her maternal family. As a strong advocate of gender equality I would accept her being equally identified with the region of her maternal family as she is with her paternal family’s as fair but it remains to be seen how the Umzingwane constituents will respond.
It is not unheard of even in ‘mature’ democracies for political parties to deliberately fast-track certain candidates – as a form of essential positive discrimination – and deploy them in constituencies perceived as winnable. The individuals will ideally have a connection of one form or the other with the identified constituency and they have to commit themselves to spending reasonable time in the area serving their constituents if elected. Although it would be preferable to have locals run local political institutions, there are periods when available local candidates may not have the desired political clout and credentials for the available roles.