Guest Column

Mugabe Wins, Democracy Loses

2013-08-02 14:22

Batsirai Chikuru*

What appears to be a landslide victory for President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe’s general election marks a huge step backwards in the country’s quest to build a solid and mature democracy that guarantees basic personal and political rights to all citizens.

Official early results show Zanu-PF heading for an overwhelming victory, possibly surpassing a two-thirds majority in Parliament where its dominance had been in decline since the 2000 elections when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) burst onto the political scene.

In the 2008 elections, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T won 100 of the 210 contested seats in the House of Assembly to Zanu-PF’s 99. The remainder went to smaller parties, mostly the MDC led by Welshman Ncube.

That election marked the first time in Zimbabwe’s post-liberation history that Zanu-PF was no longer the ruling party.

This week’s general election saw this trend reversed, catching many observers, analysts and other political parties by surprise. Mr Tsvangirai, who faced-off Mr Mugabe for the presidency for the third time, had been seen as a serious challenger and many believed that MDC-T’s confidence was justified.

Amid accusations of rigging, the scale of Zanu-PF’s win means that it now has the power to amend the Constitution and pass any legislation at will. Mr Mugabe hinted as much during his campaign, and it is well known that he is not happy about several provisions in the new Constitution that have reduced presidential powers.

Zimbabwe’s parliament is set to be reduced to a mere rubber-stamp institution of Zanu-PF policies, most of which — such as indigenisation and economic empowerment — are populist in nature, and are detrimental to foreign direct investment.

The outcome of this election means the gains of the past decade in building a democratic parliament — representative of the diversity of the population, open and accessible, transparent and effective — will be eroded. A rubber-stamp legislative branch does not qualify as a democratic parliament.

These democratic principles are only realised through a set of institutions and practices that include a guaranteed framework of citizen rights; institutions of representative and accountable government; an active citizen body or civil society; and mediating institutions between government and citizens, among which political parties and media are the most important.

For people to have any influence over the laws and policies that govern them requires the guarantee of basic rights: freedom of expression, association, religion and so on, as well as the freedom to vote in free and fair elections.

Zanu-PF, by resisting media reforms and retaining punitive surveillance laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, has proved it is not open to these values.

While respect for these rights is the responsibility of all citizens, it is the particular responsibility of Parliament as the legislative authority to ensure that their formulation and mode of protection in practice conform to international human rights standards, and that they are not undermined by other legislation.

As the central institution of democracy, parliament is expected to embody the people’s will in government, and carry all their expectations that democracy will be responsive to their needs, and help solve the most pressing problems that confront them in their daily lives.

In Zimbabwe, the most pressing problems are lack of jobs, lack of protection of human rights, poor infrastructure and lack of basic services such as water, sanitation, health and education. Zanu-PF has a very poor record in these areas, which explains why many are sceptical that the situation will improve.

It looks like good governance will remain a remote concept in Zimbabwe. It is difficult for a parliament dominated by one party to become a pillar of good governance where public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources in order to guarantee the realisation of human rights.

*Batsirai Chikuru is the pseudonym for a Harare-based political analyst.

*Article originally posted on Free & Fair Zimbabwe Election. Used with permission.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    mdc  |  zanu-pf  |  morgan tsvangirai  |  robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  zimbabwe elections 2013  |  southern africa

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