By Takura Zhangazha
I am registered to vote in Harare’s Dzivaresekwa parliamentary constituency. It is one of the poorest residential areas in Harare and like most urban constituencies in Zimbabwe, has over a decade of regularly voting for the mainstream opposition.
I have exercised my right to vote quite religiously since the year 2000. Every major election, notwithstanding numerous difficulties, I have diligently joined a queue and cast my vote. Whether the vote would be for a referendum or parliamentary, council, presidential or as recent as 2013, a harmonised election, I have performed this core national duty to the best of my abilities and within democratic reason.
This year and unexpectedly so, I am called upon to again exercise this democratic right in a by-election scheduled for June 10 2015. The previous MP, Solomon Madzore — did not resign, become incapacitated nor has he been convicted of a crime during his term of office.
He was removed from the National Assembly following the invoking of Section 129 (1k) of the Constitution that allows his original party to write to the Speaker advising that so and so is no longer a party member and therefore cannot represent the party as MP.
I cannot vouch for his parliamentary tenure and his popularity with his former constituents. Nor am I privy to the internal party shenanigans that led to his dismissal, apart from what has appeared in the newspapers. What I do know is that as a result of his former party expelling him, I am being asked to cast my vote to help resolve an internal party problem.
This is probably the same for all voters who will be casting their ballots on June 10 2015 in their respective constituencies. And for those that have already undergone or will undergo by-elections for similar reasons.
With a heavy heart, and in my own personal capacity, I have decided to exercise my right not to vote on June 10 2015 for the five distinct reasons outlined below:
l Firstly, voting is an issue I consider to be a serious act that, in turn, should also reciprocate serious explanations by the powers that be as to why it must occur in-between general elections. In this case, the fact that individual members of a political party disagree is not a democratic enough reason. That political parties have internal disputes is a given. To have these disputes then translate with such ease into whole elections is symptomatic of a lack of seriousness on their part and not mine. I have no particular obligation to demonstrate a willingness to help solve what are essentially personality and not policy clashes in political parties. Had the sitting MP resigned or become incapacitated, I would have readily cast my vote for a new one. In this case neither applies to the Dzivaresekwa constituency and others.
l Secondly, I then had to ask myself what my vote would possibly change apart from giving one candidate or the other ascension to the priviledges that come with the office of being MP. Our current parliamentary system is a convoluted first-past-the-post and proportional representation system in which one major party, Zanu (PF), currently has majority and centrist command of the legislative agenda. This, coupled with the fact that even if an opposition MP won this pending by-election, it would not affect the ruling party’s two thirds majority in Parliament. So this exercise becomes one in which I will only be participating in abstract and pretentious expressions of democracy with no expectations of any policy changes as a result of my vote.
l In the third instance, I am thoroughly persuaded that during these harsh-economic times, our politicians should be seeking to address our socio-economic plight. The fact that they have time to continuously (and unnecessarily) campaign as opposed to solving economic problems does not solve the challenges of the national economy, let alone boost investor confidence and much-needed foreign direct investment/assistance. That political party leaders are comfortable with perpetual electioneering can only be indicative of either their incompetence, lack of a clear national development agenda or a combination of both.
There are reasons why there are five-year terms, and key among these is performance and legitimacy as opposed to elections in perpetuity.
l Fourthly, I know that in the long-run these by-elections may be part of a political game-plan around Zanu PF succession politics or consolidation of internal power in the mainstream MDC-T. All in supposed aid of total victory in the 2018 harmonised elections. It is however not a burden that must be passed on to the voter without democratic reasoning both internally within specific political parties or in broader external and national terms. Party leaders must not avoid key internal debates only to claim to be either “brands” or “infallible” leaders in the eyes of the electorate. The fact that they have all let their issues get out of hand to the extent of invoking by-elections is an indictment on their individual capacities as leaders of their respective parties. It is also a further indictment of the crass opportunism of political parties that are not currently represented in Parliament and are seeking vaingloriously to rationalise the ineptitude of the leadership of their rivals. In this, they perpetuate the “big man” syndrome and negative materialistic culture of our national political culture.
l Finally, I am of the view that the new Constitution, in its elitist incrementalism is thoroughly devoid of a holistic and organic intention to democratise our society. It can only be viewed, in the final analysis, as another power-sharing document that will be subjected to continued abuse by those in power or even in parliamentary opposition. At some point, and hopefully soon, the people of Zimbabwe shall have a truly people driven, organic and democratic constitution.
(Takura Zhangazha,a political scientist and media activist writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)