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Why Mthwakazi must reject the FPTP system

Voting systems are a fundamental instrument in a democracy because how people choose their leaders is as important as the right to choose. It is increasingly evident that how we choose our leadership in Zimbabwe has played a significant role in our government failure to deliver good leadership and reduce public suffering. In our favoured First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system we inadvertently support a political system that promotes argument over creativity and expect an innovative government in place.

When we stay out of situations that we know are wrong and know fully well we should be confronting with all our might we leave conditions ripe for persistent abuse of the ordinary public by bullies in the political class.

Zimbabwe, and Mthwakazi within, is today in a political, social and economic mess because we have abdicated our responsibilities. Civic society has allowed itself to be side-lined in the process of choosing who leads the country.

To genuinely improve Mthwakazi, how leaders are chosen must change; the system that sees Mthwakazi being subservient to Mashonaland choices cannot, in this day and age, be democratic. A system that says chaos is peace because many think so and lawlessness is justice because many hold that to be true is wrong.

For objective political changes to take place in Zimbabwe we need to start by changing social attitudes that make us only comfortable or uncomfortable with people on the basis of their tribal background than their leadership abilities. Choosing a better system to choose a better leader will be crucial in how politics changes, and social and tribal identity must never be a factor in who leads us.

Public focus has been on all the wrong things, like a candidate’s charm, tribe and race, their alleged contribution to the war of liberation from colonialism, their stellar résumé or their academic credentials. The reality, as experience has proved to us time and again, is none of this has any bearing on leadership potential.

Changes in how we choose those who lead us must be at the forefront of our overall plans to change how we do politics. We have, imposed upon us, a voting system forcing us to choose power over credibility by pushing an election system that advances duo politics while punishing third and smaller political actors.

It is important as citizens to have a trusted system that reflects the character and integrity that we would wish to be associated with. That system cannot be the FPTP. It has become apparent that the PFTP is no longer the model that reflects our desire for the future; now is perfect timing to pull the plug on it.

FPTP as a system is underpinned by the Majoritarian principle, where whichever party or candidate obtains a plurality of votes within any given constituency wins that contest outright. In Zimbabwe gaining 51 percent of the electorate’s vote is enough for an outright victory for an organisation or candidate. The question is: where is fairness in a winner with just about 51 percent taking 100 percent of power? See also the illustration below where under the FPTP system a party that has obtained 38.7% of the vote and allocated 54.2% of available seats is acquires 100% of the power.

Image credit: Fairvote Canada

What we want and need is a system where the number of seats given to parties reflect the number of votes cast. As illustrated in a previous post, what we tend to get from FPTP is often the most disproportionate result. The system provides the bare minimum of democracy, is unrepresentative for the majority, and distorts the allocation of power.

Over the years we have witnessed a lack of political ideological creativity in Mthwakazi because the FPTP system fosters the dominance of the MDC Alliance and ZANU PF. We see a politics that frequently looks back for reference and never forward to the future the public desire.

There is scarcely a real desire to connect with the voters, the politics is driven by the desire to acquire power. Protected by a less competitive electoral system, the two main parties have remained trapped in their past and beliefs, seeking differentiation through adopting the opposite of the other, and embracing policies based on their rigid ideological location rather than on any great insight, analysis, or understanding of their intended targets.

What we see in Zimbabwe is that both main parties resolutely cling to their foundational bases even when confronted with the socio-political reality that the conditions that supported these ideologies have long gone.

A first-past-the-post two-party political system is fundamentally an either/or arrangement. It can be argued that bipolar politics is designed to promote argument, not thought; no problem has ever been solved through adversarial argument.

Competition and democracy are interdependent; where standards are concerned, competition matters. In limiting competition, FPTP allows for the fall of standards. The MDC Alliance/ZANU PF duopoly gives rise to lower quality government. Over the years the two parties have only had to convince enough voters – ‘enough’ being a long way from a majority – that they are better or least worst choice.

Orderly competition drives improvement in all things. Multi-party competition that allows new parties to become established and the old to rejuvenate themselves or die is essential for successful government. We believe a genuine system of proportional voting is the way forward.

No system is foolproof but the limitations of the FPTP make it obsolete in Mthwakazi. We cannot continue voting back into power organisations whose only reference point is their histories and new organisations are denied genuine operational space. The unintended consequence of limiting competition makes FPTP a liability to democracy. No region should be victim to choices of other regions; Mthwakazi cannot be subservient to Mashonaland choices. We want a system that is not FPTP and a system that does not stifle but encourages genuine competition by not punishing smaller parties.   


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