Elections are indispensable to democracy yet holding elections must not be seen as evidence of democracy. Democracy cannot be measured merely on the basis of a country holding regular ‘free and fair’ elections where ‘free’ and ‘fair’ are subjectively determined by the political elite.
Even the fairest election does not of itself eradicate inherent power disparities between the electorate and the political elite. It is not lost to me that the most important – though unfortunate – reality of elections is their failure to go beyond deciding who should be the leader. Elections do not, as a matter of fact, determine how power is used.
Fair elections are useless without corresponding constitutional provisions for fair power distribution from the top to the bottom and across society. Elections merely validate the political elite’s choices, desires that often emasculate those of the unsuspecting electorate. Regular elections in Zimbabwe have failed to halt the systematic loss of political power from Matabeleland and ethnic minorities to Mashonaland and ethnic Shona citizens.
On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s regular elections have presided over the concentration of power on the rich and powerful rather than devolving more power to the ordinary Zimbabwean population. The Zimbabwean State has virtually become a conduit through which power has been transferred from the colonial white thieves to the post-colonial black thieves; there is no empowerment but a systematic disembowelling of communities.
Elections hardly change anything for the poor and weak citizens irrespective of who wins them; whatever changes occur, they are cosmetic at the best. The status quo remains that the political elite entrench their positions and those of their rich financiers through misappropriation of power and the exploitation of the poor.
Ordinary people only have the privilege to choose leaders but politicians decide the length of tenures and the conditions under which elected members maybe removed from power before the end of their term. Suffice to say recall has yet to be used in Zimbabwe although there have been many under-performers since independence. The electorate is ostensibly given a sense of control in which they decide who should be their leaders when in fact they are simply being asked to validate and legitimise political elite’s choices. Independent candidates aside, political parties impose candidates on a significant portion of the electorate.
I fail to understand the objective and validity of Zimbabwean elections; voting patterns need to make sense to participants and analysts but Zimbabwean patterns are stubborn to logic. Much of the problem perhaps lies on lack of transparency and the poor electoral education; an uneducated electorate is antagonistic to democracy and only beneficial to pseudo-democrats.
In Zimbabwe it is no longer clear what people vote for or if indeed they understand what they are voting for. Election after election, ZANU PF’s campaigns have turned into a series of long-winded revisionist historical narratives with very little objective articulation of the present and limited realistic goals for the future. The leader of the party and president of the country is no stranger to abusive verbal campaigns including implying in the 2013 general election that people of Matabeleland were idiots who lacked ambition yet his party went on to perform exceptionally well in the region! How such statements convinced the electorate that he was the right man for the job defeats objectivity.
Elections are not evidence of the existence of democracy; they are – in cases – nothing less than an expensive sham; they do not change power transactions in many societies; they do not of themselves empower citizens; they merely legitimise the political elite choices; they give ‘slaves’ the chance to substitute one ‘slave master’ for the other. Poor voter education compromises the election outcomes in many countries, including in Zimbabwe. However, where there are clear and strong constitutional provisions for the use of power and the distribution of that power across society, elections remain a valuable tool for making political decisions.