Monday, 9 March 2015

Parliament's Undemocratic Game of Musical Chairs

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a game of musical chairs currently going on in our Parliament. Using Section 129 (1k) of the new constitution, political parties that have split or are in the throes of factional fights have decided to recall MPs that they claim are no longer their members.  Zanu Pf has already written to the Speaker of the National Assembly to recall Didymus Mutasa and Themba Mliswa with success.  The MDC T has also done the same in a bid to get 21 MPs from the breakaway faction led by Sekai Holland and Tendai Biti removed from the legislature.

These actions as permitted by the constitution are not new political developments as this is not the first time parties have sought to use them.  They have been used by both ruling and opposition parties to get rid of leaders that no longer tow the party or party leader's line as far back as the year 2000.  

They  also  had the opposite effect of factions in  political parties quietly agreeing not to raise that spectre in order to share the money that the Political Parties Finance Act grants them.  Or in the latest case of the MDC-T wanting a record 21 MPs recalled probably to have that money all to itself, at least for a while.

All of this raises many questions as to the democratic significance of the right to recall MPs by political parties. Add to this the by elections that have to be held when such vacancies emerge and you have a country in perpetual election mode. 

Not that it’s a bad thing to get to vote for a member of parliament before their initial term of office expires.  It’s the reasoning behind this that is problematic. 

Political parties to all intents and purposes should learn to solve their own problems internally.  To argue that they have the right to recall MPs merely because they have violated one or the other party rule is to diminish their broader non partisan role for their constituencies. Especially in our country where we have the greater percentage of our legislators elected via geographical constituencies and on a first-past-the-post basis.

A question that emerges is to whom does the MP primarily belong?  In terms of the law he/she belongs to the political party on whose ticket they campaigned on.  And there should no longer be any pretense about this. 

This also means that the executives of political parties to all intents and purposes are interfering with parliament even after an election campaign. This is regardless of the fact that the President of the country is not elected by Parliament sitting as an electoral college, save for when he retires or dies in between general elections. 

So there is no virtuous reasoning behind this permission give political parties to remove elected MPs from Parliament by way of a letter coming from their  administrative arms.  It has never added democratic value and will not do so in the near future.  In most cases  it has been used to settle personal political scores without an iota of democratic justification.
 
The full import of the recent actions by Znau Pf and the MDC-T is that by elections are going to be the norm throughout the life of this current parliament.  And the electorate is going to be harassed with solving personal squabbles via the vote or reconfiguration of proportional representation candidates. 

It will also mean that there will be electoral expenses for the already strained fiscus which were not budgeted for in as many numbers. Perhaps the only benefit for the many unemployed young Zimbabweans will be new additions to their wardrobes by way of tickets and occupation of time via campaign rallies and canvassing.

For the country it will only mean the continued politicization of Parliament and its role as a rubber stamping authority of political parties. MPs will have to self censor, avoid meeting with constituents that are deemed ‘enemies’ of their respective parties leadership while simultaneously singing praises of the latter to protect their tenure.  By so doing, the MPs and their political parties of choice are demonstrating the height of political arrogance and disdain for the electorate. Almost as though they will be mockingly telling the people of Zimbabwe, ‘we don’t care, you will vote anyway.’
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)