The impact of political rights on democracy 

Source: The impact of political rights on democracy | The Herald March 14, 2018

Sharon Hofisi Legal Letters
It is practically impossible for democracy in its various forms to improve without manufactured consent between the governors and the governed.

Political rights provide the best way for the governor and the governed to acknowledge the importance of the other. One way or the other, it should be noted that politics is everywhere and political rights allow a citizen to scan his environment periodically.

To get a clear understanding of the importance of political rights to the development of democracy, the duty of ordinary politician rests upon the heart and mind of the electorate, waiting to be tested.

This leads us to the point that the career or occasional politician must specifically perform certain duties in her political constituency so that the electorate associates with her vision, rubs with her vision, and follows her vision before, during and after elections.

Political rights were not broadly entrenched until we adopted a home-grown Constitution in 2013. We chose a multi-party democracy as part of our founding principles. Multi-party democracy officially provides a solid ground for political rights.

The history of political rights cannot be divorced from Zimbabwe’s history. Liberation fighters fought to assert the right for self-determination. Zimbabwe was born in 1980 and went through different episodes of political events that can provide useful insights on why we entrenched political rights.

The culture and disposition of right holders in political parties such as zanu-pf and ZAPU have to be understood using the developments that obtained during the liberation struggle. Such an approach assists us in benchmarking the roles of institutions such as the army and revolutionary parties.

We can only understand the developments in contemporary Zimbabwe using how the military had in many instances interacted with the party leadership.

Revolutionary political parties today did not simply wake up to wage war against the former colonisers. They began with non-violent protests that were predominantly carried out in townships, now our high density suburbs. This modus operandi can largely be seen as instructed by Gandhi’s philosophy. Those who are familiar with Gandhi’s philosophy know that he transformed political philosophies in South Africa and India.

Gandhi was able to overthrow or contribute to the destruction of colonial systems in a non-violent way, which in a way led to the entrenchment of peaceful methods of resolving disputes within and outside states.

The formation of PF ZAPU and zanu-pf as well as their military wings such as the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) help us to determine the impact of the gun on politics. The parties sent their military personnel for training in China and Russia. This led to a transition from non-violent politics to the armed struggle.

The attainment of independence allowed political parties that had dominated the liberation struggle to participate in the elections. The elections served as the only useful and key pillar for political governance and efforts at democratisation in Zimbabwe.

Although zanu-pf won the elections and continued to dominate the first two decades of Independence, there were indications that the 1980 elections had produced a volume of aspirations on the need to entrench political rights.

The formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999 ultimately became the authoritative basis for entrenching political rights. It laid the foundation for strong and continuous opposition to zanu-pf dominance.

There was establishment of a political climate, which would go on to herald a Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe.

Were political rights significant before the formation of the MDC? In a sense, they were largely so because there were political parties, which participated as opposition parties.

Parties such as PF ZAPU had also accepted to unite with zanu-pf. There were important political trade-offs, particularly the embodiment of the concept of the two Vice Presidents in government, one from ZANU and the other from ZAPU.  Such political arrangements were ideal for the development of political rights and efforts at democratisation in Zimbabwe in areas such as the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU).

In fact, we would be wrong in ignoring the role of the Unity Accord of 1987 between zanu-pf and PF ZAPU in shaping political developments such as the GNU between zanu-pf and the two MDC formations under the late Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara or Welshman Ncube in 2009.

The unity of 1987 was claimed by politicians in the interests of their party supporters in the same way the GNU of 2009 brought about a political transition, which stabilised the country. The unity arrangements lie precisely in the need to promote political rights of the party activists. This concept of unity, or more correctly, political compromise, obviously closes the way to political intolerance in particular and the differences in ideology in general.

Political tolerance enabled zanu-pf and the MDC formations referred to above to kick-start a constitution-making process. This process led to the replacement of the Lancaster House Constitution, which did not have transformative provisions on political rights.

It is known from a human rights perspective that political rights are part of the first generation of rights, whose source is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The 2013 Constitution clearly provides for the existence of several political rights.

The right to a free, fair and regular election is important to constitutional democracy. Zimbabwe is religiously holding elections after every five years.

Since elections are the key pillars in the development of democracy, several political party activists, who assert their political rights help give credence to the electoral outcome.

We note with interest how 50+ political parties are moving to participate in the 2018 elections. Even if we are to consider evolving forms of democracy such as progressive democracy, such a significant number is important in benchmarking our constitutional democracy.

About 50-85 parties are prepared to field a parliamentary or presidential candidate. Constituencies are witnessing a growth in the number of candidates.

The voters in each constituency are free to make their political choices when electing office bearers. The right to make political choices is part of political rights.

Political rights also include the right to form a political party. Those who formed their own political parties have been allowed to meet their supporters.

I was listening over the radio when one presidential candidate by the name Machona expressed optimism that he wants to move for a test case so that he runs as a president and Member of Parliament for his Africa Democrats Party. This is good for democracy and can in future enable us to introduce political reforms. Political rights also include right to join or participate in the affairs of a political party of one’s choice.

We have seen political party leaders coming together to form alliances such as the MDC Alliance; those who have been expelled from parties such as Kudzanai Chipanga begging for readmission and those who had formed political parties such as Job Sikhala rejoining political parties such as the MDC.

The entrenchment of political rights is today the focus of real and key pillars to the development of democracy in Zimbabwe. It was out of the need for transparent politicking and good governance that Zimbabwe entrenched multi-party democracy and various political rights in the mother law of the land or supreme political map for our country — the Constitution.

Sharon Hofisi is a lecturer and for feedback contact<>