Is Zim a pseudo democracy?

HARARE - Bleak House starts with a description of a thick fog that has engulfed London.

The fog image is then used by Dickens to portray an interminable and ruinous legal case, that of Jarndyce v Jarndyce: “The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest. … At the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord Chancellor in his High Court of the Chancery.

“Never can there come fog too deep, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which the High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.

“On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting here — as here he is — with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog.

On such an afternoon, some score of members of the High Court of Chancery bar ought to be — as here they are — mistily engaged in one of the 10 000 stages of an endless case, tripping one another up on slippery precedents, groping knee-deep in technicalities, running their goat-hair and horse-hair warded heads against a wall of words, and making a pretence of equity with serious faces, as players might.”

This, in my view could reflect the accurate prognosis of the political and electoral environment ahead of the elections to be held this year as Zanu PF and its surrogate security apparatus prepare a political onslaught against its opponents.

The murder of Christpower Maisiri in Headlands, the crackdown against civil society leaders, the banning of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s meeting in Highfield and the general interference in the political and electoral affairs of Zimbabwe by the country’s security apparatus indicates that Zimbabwe is slowly sliding back into the pre-GPA environment where enforced disappearances and colossal human rights violations were the norm.

Activities especially the confiscation of shortwave radios and the apparent cover-up of the ghoulish and heinous murder of Christpower are indications that the country’s next general elections would be hotly disputed and the margin of terror rather than error is the regime’s prime strategy.

The Zanu PF side of the inclusive government has gone a gear up by intimating that it will selectively accredit observers for the coming referendum and elections.

These partisan activities by the regime hardliners the police should act as early warning systems that the road ahead is murky and dirty if not bloody.

Given this situation, democratic political actors should look ahead and start robust local and regional as well as transitional advocacy activities to create a boomerang effect that activates the international word to start engaging the hardliners in government ahead of the elections.

Zanu PF’s eyes are beyond the referendum but the real issue is the defining elections ahead.

Coordinated civil society and democratic political parties’ responses will assist to confront these political shenanigans that are not random but carefully crafted by Zanu PF, the security apparatus and the regime’s intellectuals with a primal goal; to circumvent the electoral process and block a democratic transition through elections.

My case here is to make sure that Zimbabwe is not a pseudo democracy after the defining polls this year.
Democratic scholars such as Larry Diamond define a pseudo-democracy as a nation with opposition political parties , meets some tenets of electoral democracy such as regular upholding of elections but fails to provide “ a sufficiently fair arena for contestation  to allow the ruling party to be turned out of power”.

Robert Dahl talks of a procedural minimum of democracy with elections being a central signifier.

My view is that elections are a possible vehicle in transition to democracy given the authoritarian rule Zimbabwe has been grappling with for the past three decades but we must work hard for this democracy to prevail in the coming elections.

It would be misleading if there are any democratic actors who believe that Zanu PF under Mugabe can deliver a democratic transition and consequently a democratic transfer of power.

In order to prosper the country needs democracy and periodic elections which are a tenet of democracy.
The most conspicuous difference between authoritarianism and democratic regimes is that in democratic regimes citizens choose their top policy makers in genuine elections.

How is this possible in the wake of the heinous murder of a 12-year-old child?

It is argued that once regular elections become established, certain state officials gain a formally defined role in protecting political rights.

Military commanders, police and security officials, judges must then ask themselves whether or not actions friendly to democracy will advance their future institutional status, individual careers and overall prominence.

Advocates of procedural democracy however, caution that if elections remain a non-competitive sham and an occasion to smash opponents of the incumbent government, procedural analysts reject them as a criterion for democracy but if elections cause significant governance changes, it is argued they maybe a sign of the presence of democratic practices.

 It is also cautioned that elections make autocracy more likely if they serve to make repression cheap, easy to target opposition leaders; or even unnecessary; and if they make it possible for the regime to control toleration of the opposition, to split the opposition, and to use the elections as vehicles for patronage; or if elections simply make toleration too costly for the incumbents.

In hegemonic electoral authoritarian regimes such as Zimbabwe, elections are a means by which the regime tries to reproduce itself.

Under this scenario, the electoral context, environment and administration are crafted to deliver a pre-determined outcome of regime retention and continuity.

This is what should be confronted by democratic partners through advocacy work to expose the undermining of electoral processes by the regime’s agents as is the case now.

It is argued that a state is governed democratically if governmental office is allocated on the basis of competitive popular elections.

The idea of administering credible polls that offer citizens varied choices in an environment where civil liberties are not obstructed are characteristics that all democracies have in common and that non-democratic forms of government lack and aspire to have.

But in Zimbabwe, how can this happen when police raid opposition and civic society organisations and stifle democratic debates and cover up heinous murders?

Samuel Huntington argues that elections can be perceived as a barometer for defining democracy.

In his view, democracy could be understood as a means of constituting authority and making it responsible.

A modern state, postulates Huntington could be perceived as having a democratic political system if its most powerful political officers are chosen through fair, honest, periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes in a system to allow universal suffrage.

According to this definition elections are the essence of democracy.

From this follow other characteristics of democratic systems.

Free, fair and competitive elections are only possible if there is some measure of freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and if opposition candidates and parties are able to criticise incumbents without fear of retaliation.

Zimbabwe is missing these characteristics by a wide margin that needs to be closed ahead of the next polls.

Despite the flawed nature of previous elections in Zimbabwe managed by Zimbabwe Election Commission and its predecessor, the Electoral Supervisory Commission, surveys by Afro-barometer, Freedom House and the Mass Public Opinion Institute show that Zimbabweans still prefer elections as a way to choose their political leaders.

In 2004, 75 percent of those surveyed preferred elections as a means whereas in 2005 about 74 percent preferred the same and the figure increased to 90 percent in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

My argument is that since the disputed elections involving PF Zapu against Zanu victory in 1985, Zimbabwe has had elections without a choice because of many reasons among them the manner in which Zec has organised elections especially at the turn of the 21st century with the emergence of an organised threat to Zanu PF’s political hegemony by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Another democratic scholar, Phillian Zamchiya argues that the next general election is unique since 1980 in that it is the first post-transition election, which takes place in the aftermath of a transitional government borne out of an inconclusive and highly disputed election.

The next election will bring fundamental changes to the politics of Zimbabwe and is critical and arguably the most important since the 1980 election, Zamchiya argues.

A credible and impartial Zec is a critical cog in attempts to deliver a democratic electoral process and outcome and consequently a smooth transfer of power in Zimbabwe.

A non-partisan security apparatus is critical as well.

State institutions involved in electoral management should be democratised and reformed ahead of the polls as part of the reforms demanded by the Southern African Development Community. - Pedzisai Ruhanya

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