Imagine no opposition

2016-11-22 06:00

THIS week, Hillary Clinton gave a glimpse into her agony at losing the U.S. presidential elections to Donald Trump.

“There have been a few times this past week where all I wanted to do was curl up with a good book and our dogs and never leave the house again,” she said at a children’s charity event on Wednesday.

It was her first public appearance since her concession speech in which she told Americans they owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead”.

Following Trump’s unexpected victory, there has been much focus on how he beat the odds to win the race, on his haphazard preparations to take office and his controversial White House appointments, including a right-wing nationalist as his strategic adviser.

Trump has also been manoeuvring to have members of his family help him run the country as if it is a monarchy.

Clinton all but disappeared from the public eye. As the vanquished, she has no role to play now.

The election result was a brutal blow for Clinton who set her eyes on the big prize many years ago.

The irony is that despite losing the election to Trump, she won the popular vote by over a million ballots. While ballots are still being counted, she is on course to receive more votes than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history, apart from Barack Obama.

With America’s electoral college system, it makes no difference how many votes Clinton received.

The winner-take-all electoral system means that the over 60 million Americans who voted for Clinton go unrepresented for the next four years.

There have been calls for electoral reform in South Africa through the introduction of a mixed system that combines the proportional-representation model we have now with a constituency-based system.

It is argued this would ensure greater accountability and a direct link between elected representatives and voters.

The experience of the U.S. election gives us a greater appreciation of the system we have now, in which voters are represented even when their parties do not win the majority.

The strength of our system is a vibrant opposition whose representation in Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipalities is proportional to the votes it receives.

It is difficult to imagine what our country would be like if there were no opposition, and the government were able to run unchallenged for the duration of its term.

The contribution of members of the opposition to vigorous parliamentary debates, their tough questioning of the president and members of Cabinet and their legal challenges are a demonstration of our lively democracy.

If opposition parties were discounted on the basis that they did not win the election, all semblance of accountability would collapse and those in power would be free to use the state as they wish. Would we know the ongoings in government departments and state-owned enterprises if there were no parliamentary accountability? Would President Jacob Zuma have paid back the money for the Nkandla upgrades if opposition parties did not pursue the matter in Parliament and the courts?

Highly doubtful.

This is the situation the U.S. faces with Trump in the White House and the Republicans holding the majority in the Senate and the House. It was the outcome of the elections but it was not the will of the majority of American voters.

Clinton urged her supporters not to lose heart. “We have work to do, and for the sake of our children and our families and our country, I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” she said.

“We need you. America needs you, your energy, your ambition, your talent. That is how we get through this.”

Although we have a vibrant opposition, South Africans also cannot afford to sit back. People speaking up have helped to guard our national Treasury from being hijacked by sinister forces.

Power should never be unchecked. We too must “stay engaged”.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.


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