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Why elections matter in Zim

BY FAY CHUNG
Zimbabwe has its next elections in 2023. That is less than two years ahead. It is imperative that every Zimbabwean should examine why we have elections. What are elections for?

What will we achieve through elections?

There are more than 180 different countries in the world, and nearly all of them have elections.

Elections are very important for each and every one of them.

Yet each country has different variations of elections, some very simple such as Zimbabwe’s, other very sophisticated and complex such as those of the United States, Britain, and China.

Only last week Germany had national elections: seven parties competed. The Socialist Democratic Party won 25.7% of the votes; the Christian Democratic Party, Chancellor Merkel’s last government, gained 24.1% of the votes; and the Green Party won 14.8% of the votes.

Under their system it means these three parties will form the next government, and will have to negotiate amongst themselves on their joint policies.

The Socialist Democratic Party will not be able to implement all its policies on its own, but will have to compromise with the other two parties.

Most governments have “left wing” and “right wing” parties:  left wing means more socialist, representing workers and peasants;  right wing means more conservative, representing the owners of the capitalist economy such as land and factory owners.

Zanu PF began as a “nationalist” party in 1963, and became a more “socialist” party in the 1970s, influenced by the liberation struggle by Zanla and Zipra, which, however, embraced different versions of “socialism”, the Maoist version for Zanla and the Soviet version for Zipra.

Socialism lasted after independence for about a decade, but was replaced by the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), in the 1990s.

Today Zimbabwe’s political ideology remains a combination of some forms of socialism and some forms of ESAP.

ESAP was imposed by the United States through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank, which promised generous donations and investments to countries which switches to ESAP. Zimbabwe switched in 1991, like most African and developing countries.

How should we look at Zimbabwe’s political ideology today?

Many powerful and famous thinkers have identified democracy over the past three centuries.

It is useful for Zimbabwe to look at one important theorist,  Sun Yatsen, a Chinese nationalist (1866-1925). He had a powerful impact on modern political ideology and democracy.

Sun Yatsen  was responsible for the 1911 Nationalist Revolution in China which removed the outdated Chinese emperor.

His three principles of democracy are:

l independence from foreign imperialist domination or oppression;

l “democracy”, including through elections; and

l “livelihood” and “welfare” of the people.

  1. Sun’s first principle: Independence from foreign imperialist domination or oppression

In Zimbabwe’s case independence in 1980 brought about some freedom from colonial British and settler domination, the first of Sun’s principles for freedom.

However, the main aim of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement was the securitisation of European ownership of 18 million hectares of commercial farming areas through the “willing seller willing buyer” provision.

Most Africans did not own much money at independence, and could not afford to buy these lands.

An unwritten agreement was made that British and American and other Western donors would provide donor funds to enable white lands to be bought.

This was partially fulfilled by Britain, but not by the others.

Thereafter no further donor funds were available.

The contribution to purchase three million hectares of resettlement land was wildly popular in Zimbabwe.

It also gave the impression that this would be enough to settle the overall land resettlement programmes.

Emphasis on small scale land resettlement halted, it being assumed that large scale farmers would be the main export farmers.

The 1990s saw large scale farmers coming to the fore. These were mainly white settler farmers.

At the same time Zimbabwe refused to allow any of its own funds, however meagre, to be utilised on the principle that when the land was taken a hundred years earlier it was not paid for.

Some 10% to 20% of the state budget for land resettlement would have been substantive, and would have provided a long term solution irrespective of outside funding.

Total dependence on outside funding over which Zimbabwe has no control seriously undermines the programme.

One of the main problems of the Lancaster House Agreement was that it did not settle the issue of the vast differentiation of wealth in the population, with millionaires and billionaires on the one hand and totally destitute populations on the other.

The economy remains one of the most important features to be taken into consideration in terms of national interests.

Zimbabwe’s GDP is estimated to be US$26.09 billion for 2021 by the World Bank.

This modest amount is the foundation of the future economy of the country.

In analyzing the future of the country it will be necessary to examine the potential of the economy over the next two or three decades, the period envisaged for the next education and human development vision of the country.

How will Zimbabwe grow from its per capita GDP of US$1 000 per year to an average of a middle class economy of about US$10 000 per year?

  1. Sun’s second principle: Democratic elections

Independence also brought about national, provincial and district elections which have been held regularly.

But elections have been corrupted  by the utilisation of money. As a result, although people vote, they do not necessarily benefit.

The poor want jobs, and millions of them do not have jobs.

Many indulge in street vending to earn a living instead, but do not earn enough to feed their children well.

Job creation is one of the most urgent economic solutions.

Another problem is that selection does not take into account professional and work experience.

For example, although the main function of Parliament is to approve the multi-billion dollar budgets, few parliamentarians have received training in understanding the state’s budgetary systems and details.

As a result they usually approve the budget only after some debate on how to increase their personal allowances.

One approach is to diversify the primary election processes to include some professional qualifications.

In some countries, including Britain, candidates must belong to either grassroots, professional or business categories, and as a result the primary elections then ensure that there is a well-balanced parliamentary representation of people with different backgrounds, professional qualifications and experience.

Another approach is to include technical experts and professionals selected by their professional bodies.

This already happens in the Zimbabwean Senate, where the House of Chiefs appoints its representatives; and the disabled appoint two representatives, a man and a woman.

This happens in the United States, Britain and China today.

A wide selection of experts and professionals can be included, such as those representing agricultural or manufacturing industries.

Teachers and medical personnel could be included, as could financiers, economists and accountants.

Religious personnel could also be appointed.

Presently the Senate is mainly chosen by the two major parties, and do not represent the diversity of professional skills and knowledge.

Their representatives  instead strengthen the two dominant political parties.

  1. Sun’s third principle: “Livelihoods and welfare”

Finally the issue of “livelihoods and welfare” identified by Sun is crucial.

Every citizen should have the opportunity to earn enough to feed his or her family.

How is this possible in a relatively poor country?

One aspect is to look at tradition, and how it has resolved the issue of ensuring that every one is catered for.

The extended family and the local community ensures that everyone has some food.

Traditionally a mother and her children are supposed to be supplied with enough land to feed herself and her children.

This is usually the responsibility of the family, particularly the father and husband of the family.

Overall responsibility rests with the chieftaincy.

Today districts and municipalities must also shoulder these social welfare responsibilities.

This great legal system should be modernised and instituted into Zimbabwe’s legal system today.

Conclusion

Sun’s three principles remain critically important to the world even today.

It is particularly important for Zimbabweans to examine these three principles very carefully and to see how they can be incorporated into the constitutional and election system as soon as possible.

Fay Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle, civil servant and UN civil servant for primary and secondary education.

These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. Email: kadenge.zes@gmail.com and Mobile No. +263 772 382 852

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