Guest Column

Power lies in the ballot

2017-05-07 06:25
MARCHING FOR CHANGE Protesters carrying anti-Zuma banners at a march in Cape Town. Picture: Nasief Manie

MARCHING FOR CHANGE Protesters carrying anti-Zuma banners at a march in Cape Town. Picture: Nasief Manie

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We have seen the hammer come down on President Jacob Zuma in recent days with the determination of a blacksmith working overtime.

The insistent calls coming from all shades of South African society demand that Msholozi resign immediately.

I am writing this article because, faults aside, Zuma is still a democratically elected president with a legal mandate and right to govern – and as such, the office he occupies deserves respect.

If some segments of society want Msholozi to step down, they have a civic right to demonstrate. But their constitutional right is to vote him out or wait for the next election.

This is what nurtures peace in a country.

The calls for Msholozi to resign are fundamentally, if not brazenly, unconstitutional, as the Constitution specifically states that votes are binding and give a mandate to the elected president to govern for a term of five years.

When people want a president to resign, they are saying the mandate given on election day – assuming the elections were free and fair – should no longer count.

All citizens have the same voting right which, when votes are counted, brings about a majority result, and in this way bestows a mandate.

This is what democracy is about: elections and votes are respected.

The vote, not the bullet, is the instrument that gives power. Only when there is consensus on votes as instruments of power can democracy flourish.

Many civil wars in Africa and Latin America have been ignited by ignoring the mandate given by votes.

At times, the attacks on Zuma assume a personal, vengeful tone. Fuelled by envy, they blind and distort the foundations of Mzansi and the peace that Madiba achieved.

The principle which states that only an election can change government should be practised, not merely talked about.

When a president is voted in from whatever political party, the losing party must not try to undermine his term of office by demonstrating and calling for his resignation.

Election nullification by popular protest is an insidious way of ascending to the Union Buildings. There is a domino effect when presidents are removed by popular protests.

In the 200 or so years of US democracy, no president has been protested out of office. Even an unpopular head such as George W Bush was given his constitutional mandate to govern.

Why, then, should South Africans be encouraged to go down a slippery path of popular protest?

Africa, in general, fought to achieve its first one man, one vote system.

Then, instead of honouring election results, leaders began to devalue votes that did not favour their rule and, in turn, devalued the mandate that citizens were given.

The result? Civil wars. These have served as an indictment of the foundations of any democracy, whose duty is always to protect the result of an election – at all costs.

The election result is legally binding and gives the president, whoever he or she is, a mandate.

The Constitution enshrines that mandate, giving a president the right to govern for a full term, unless impeached. Demonstrations are no substitute for voting.

Regardless of his missteps, Zuma is an elected president and, like any president in any democratic country, his office and the election process must be allowed to run their course.

Otherwise, what is the point of voting if people can remove a president by popular protest?

When we disrespect Zuma, we disrespect the Constitution.

Msholozi has his faults, but we should understand that short-term solutions such as protests and personal insults do not build on democracy but create a culture of anarchy.

A democracy is built on constitutional safeguards such as elections, the courts and the legislature, not through protests stemming from unproven claims of an elected leader’s corruption.

In a democracy the centre of gravity is the ballot.

To substitute it with impeachment or demonstrations is to encourage popular protest and demagoguery. That would be a false premise and sound the death knell for African democracy.

Still, demonstrations are important for calling attention to certain voices in the body politic.

There exists a contract between voter and president. This contract can only be undone by a similar ballot or democratic process.

An example of such a binding contract is marriage, which requires assent, signatures, witnesses and court notice.

A person must engage the law to undo this contract and enter into a secondary contract: divorce.

Zuma is not the product of a bad process; he is a leader who was voted for in fair elections.

To say he should step down is to disrespect the power of voting, which brings about the social contract to govern.

The biggest lesson from Zuma’s presidency is that people should make better decisions at the ballot box on election day.

Change of government brought about by popular protest may be addictive, as well as disruptive and unconstitutional.

Sibanda is a lawyer and film director

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Read more on:    george w bush  |  jacob zuma  |  democracy  |  constitution
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