- Last Updated on 06 July 2012
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By Pedzisai Ruhanya (PhD Candidate, Media and Democracy, University of Westminster, London).
The decision by the ZANU PF central committee to endorse a recommendation by its Communist-style run organ, the politburo to disband the district coordinating committees of the party over factional fighting posses serious questions about the appreciation of democracy among the this political oligarchy.
The boggling decision which overlooks the human agency in the problems facing ZANU PF has tempted me to look at the possible models of democracy as postulated by democratic scholars and try to see where ZANU PF fits if at all it does.
There are different models of democracy but for the purpose of the ZANU PF intrigues, context and political shenanigans; I shall limit my analysis on the two broad types advanced by David Held which are direct or participatory and liberal of representative democracies.
Direct or participatory democracy is understood to mean a system of decision making about public affairs in which citizens are directly involved while liberal or representative democracy is defined as a system of rule embracing elected 'officers who undertake to 'represent' the interests of citizens within the framework of the rule of law.
In Africa, most countries use a mixture of these two variants in terms of the structures of the State and the system of governance that various governments including that of Zimbabwe purport to practice. While the ought to be, the ideal is not problematic, the implementation of these variants of democracy is what is proving difficult. This is the problem that ZANU PF is grappling with and that has led to the disbanding of a party structure without investigating the human agency attended to the disturbances that bedeviled the former liberation party.
It is argued that certain criteria and processes should take place in order to determine a democracy. Robert Dahl argues that there should be effective citizen participation in policy formulation, when policies are made citizens should have voting equality and that within reasonable limits of time citizens should have equal and effective opportunities to learn and understand the policies and their consequences to their lives.
Dahl postulates that all adults should exercise their full rights in policy making. He goes on to argue that this aspect and his views on whatever type of democracy was in place before the 20th century, universal adult suffrage was unacceptable to most advocates of democracy.
It is argued that the inclusion of adults as a criterion for democratic practices ironically rules out many cases that political philosophers have regularly taken as great historical models of democracy. Dahhl, therefore, contends that Greek and Roman polities, Viking Crews, Village Assemblies and some City-States which all built their political deliberations by means of exclusion of slaves, women and paupers should be critically questioned.
Dahl seems to agree with advocates of procedural democracy who single out a narrow range of governmental practices to determine whether a regime qualifies as a democracy. These procedural observers center their attention on elections looking at whether genuinely competitive elections engaging large numbers of citizens regularly produce changes in personal and governmental policy.
Advocates of procedural democracy however, cautions 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 argue they maybe a sign of the presence of democratic practices.
From the above, it is difficult to understand the kind of democratic practices that ZANU PF entails. Its practices through the disbanding of the district coordinating committees, the failure to run credible internal electoral process reflects how it has failed to administer free and fair elections at the national level.
It is generally agreed that that a state is governed democratically if governmental office is allocated on the basis competitive popular elections. It argued that the idea of administering credible and 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. The current practices and state of affairs in ZANU PF is far from these basic postulations about democracy, so what type of democracy does ZANU PF practice?
Another leading democratic scholar, Samuel Huntington sees elections 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, argues 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 are some measure of freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and if opposition candidates and parties are able to criticize incumbents without fear of retaliation,'' Huntington argued.
It is however, doubted if elections alone could define adequately the elusive concept of democracy. In trying to answer this riddle, Larry Diamond elaborated a key distinction between liberal democracy and electoral democracy. Liberal democracies not only have elections. Diamond argues that all liberal democracies have restrictions on the power of the executive, independent judiciaries to uphold the rule of law; protection for individual rights, and freedoms of expression, association, belief and participation, consideration for minority rights, limits on the ability of the ruling party to bias the electoral process, effective guarantees against arbitrary arrest, and minimum state control of the media. Most electoral democracies lack these safeguards. The current ZANU PF internal electoral processes and the failed elections in Zimbabwe pose critical questions about the form, type and practice of democracy by ZANU PF.
It is therefore my contention that in some African States such as Zimbabwe, electoral processes are used as part of what celebrated Cameroonian anthropologist and democratic scholar Benjamin Nyamnjoh described as "face powder democracy € meant to legitimize the continued rule of the political elite while citizens rights are trampled upon and without a deepening democratic culture and the respect for fundamental civil and political liberties of citizens in electoral administration.
Despite these contested definitions, meanings, types and variants of democracy as well as its application, my view is that democracy is a desirable form of government that ZANU PF should embrace. Instead of suppressing the views and electoral preferences of its members by banning the district coordinating committees, the party should embrace open processes of leadership renewal that has the legitimacy of its members in various communities.
The ZANU PF leadership and indeed other political players and parties in Zimbabwe should realize that democracy is significant as a form of rule because it celebrates diversity and tolerance. The the idea of democracy is important because it does not just represent one value among many such as liberty, equality or justice but it is a value that can link and mediate among competing issues in society. It is a process that will assist ZANU PF to remain relevant. Choking political dissent in order to stop either Emmerson Mnangagwa or Joyce Mujuru from political ascendancy in the current succession battles is only parochial.
The other critical significance of democracy is that it does not pre-suppose agreement on diverse values but rather it suggests a way of relating values to each other and leaving the resolution of conflicts about different values open to participants in a public process. The ZANU PF succession battles that have led to the disbanding of the district coordinating committee has stifled democratic processes in the party, silenced people temporarily but the gear for infighting remains. It will manifest itself in other organs of the party and if ZANU PF thinks that disbanding structures is the solution then it will surely disband itself.