Play politics the modern way

Mondli Makhanya
Mondli Makhanya

One could not help but be envious when observing how the British polity handled the post-Brexit referendum fallout.

In the aftermath of the plebiscite results, David Cameron – who had staked his legacy on keeping Britain within the EU – stepped down as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

What happened next was an enviable example of democratic maturity.

Several senior Tories put up their hands and declared their candidacy.

There was a fierce contest, characterised by back-stabbing, besmirching, trickery and viciousness – but all within the rules of the political game.

In the end, party veteran Theresa May emerged as the victor.

Although May had been an ardent believer in Britain’s membership of the EU in the run-up to the poll, the task fell upon her to manage her country’s exit from the continental body.

Her rivals in the race hung up their gloves, congratulated her and pledged their support.

She included some of them in her Cabinet, and even gave her fiercest foe, Boris Johnson – a despicable man – the senior post of foreign secretary.

On the opposition side, the Labour Party was experiencing its own Brexit babalaas.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a revolt in the party’s parliamentary caucus. Senior members wanted to use his failure to rally the party’s voting base behind the Remain campaign as a ruse to replace the far left-leaning Corbyn with a more centre-left leader.

Several contenders made themselves available to take on the leader.

In their mini-manifestos, they openly attacked Corbyn’s leadership.

They charged that keeping him in charge was a surefire way to ensure Labour would concede the 2020 general election to the Tories.

His far-leftist tendencies simply made the party unelectable.

Corbyn fought back and, when the electoral conference came around, he won – hands down. His rivals accepted defeat and got back to work.

No doubt they are sharpening their knives for the next opportunity to strike as they are determined to have him out long before 2020.

These knives will be plunged into his back within the rules of the game.

There will be political pain, but everyone will move right along and continue playing the sport of politics.

Across the Atlantic, the greatest political show on earth is about to reach its zenith with the election of the 45th president of the US on November 8.

When Americans choose Barack Obama’s successor, they will bring the curtain down on an election race that began in March 2015, when the first Republican contenders announced their candidacy for the White House.

This race has turned out to be the weirdest and most entertaining in history.

What was expected to be a contention between Democrat favourite Hillary Clinton and one of the more serious Republicans was turned into a circus by a demented tycoon named Donald Trump.

The US race is an exhausting marathon that worms its way through torturous processes in which billions of dollars are gobbled up.

But it is the most exciting exercise in democracy.

It pits seasoned state governors and veteran Washington lawmakers against nobodies.

Everyone starts off on an equal footing – well, sort of – with fund-raising abilities and media appeal being the key determinants of how far one can go.

For instance, the race to be the Republican candidate began with 17 people in the field.

Even though most were heavyweight politicians, they were taught a political lesson by a narcissist who believes that Princess Diana would have taken her knickers off for him had they ever met face-to-face.

As imperfect as the outcome sometimes is, it works.

It has the capacity to give you a war-loving cowboy like George W Bush, and to self-correct by giving you Obama.

The envy referred to initially stems from the fact that here at home the governing party has arrested the evolution of our electoral politics by bottling ambition.

The tradition of not declaring your ambitions – instead, saying:

“I am prepared to serve wherever the ANC deploys me” – has often prevented the best talent from rising.

Instead of eager candidates openly campaigning and selling their vision and abilities, lobbying happens in dark corners.

The system of managed leadership ascension may have worked when the ANC attracted serious activists of all classes and levels of education.

But in an environment in which even DJ Sbu considers himself a cadre, the system is open to gross manipulation.

The ANC is 14 months away from its next elective conference and not one of the known candidates is willing to admit they are in the running.

Anyone with the most basic grasp of politics knows that there are at least five candidates who have assembled teams to run their campaigns.

What is not known is what these teams are really made of, and what their respective campaigns consist of.

But we can be sure that the race will be a dirty one. The campaigners will besmirch and undermine each others’ candidates in the worst ways.

By the time they get to national conference, they will be enemies with slim chances of reconciling and getting on with normal politics.

It is time to ditch this archaic approach to democracy and make politics the fun – if vicious – game it is supposed to be.

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