THE decision by Zanu PF central committee to endorse a recommendation by its communist-style politburo to disband the district coordinating committees of the party over factional infighting poses serious questions about the existence and appreciation of democracy within this crumbling political oligarchy.The astonishing decision which overlooks the human agency in the problems facing Zanu PF raises the query of which model of democracy the party follows, if any.
There are different models of democracy, but given Zanu PF’s history, politics and context, this analysis limits itself to two broad types of democracy advanced by David Held: direct or participatory and liberal or representative democracies.
Direct or participatory democracy means a system of decision making in public affairs in which citizens are directly involved, while liberal democracy is a system of rule entailing elected officers who undertake to represent the interests of people 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. Many countries, including Zimbabwe, purport to embrace democracy in one form or another. While that ought to be the case, the ideal is not problematic but the implementation.
This is the problem that Zanu PF is grappling with which has led to the disbanding of a party structure without investigating the human agency attendant to the disturbances.
Certain processes and criteria should take place in order to determine a democracy. Robert Dahl argues there should be effective citizen participation in policy formulation,that is, when policies are made citizens should have voting equality and within reasonable limits have equal and effective opportunities to learn and understand the policies and their consequences on their lives.
It is argued 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 Greek and Roman polities, among others, which all built their political models by excluding slaves, women and paupers, should be critically questioned.
Advocates of procedural democracy, however, caution that if elections are a non-competitive sham and an occasion to bash opponents,then they fail the test of democracy. But if they cause significant governance changes, they may be a sign of the presence of democratic practices.
It is difficult to understand the kind of democratic practices Zanu PF embraces. It’s undemocratic actions through the disbanding of the district coordinating committees and the failure to adopt credible internal electoral processes explain why it has failed to administer free and fair elections at the national level.
It is generally agreed a state is governed democratically if government offices and positions are 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 stifled are characteristics all democracies have in common and that undemocratic forms of government lack. The current practices and state of affairs in Zanu PF are far from meeting the basic tenets of democracy. So what type of democracy does Zanu PF practise?
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 could be perceived as having a democratic political system if its most powerful political officers are chosen through fair, honest and periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes in a system which allows 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,’’ Huntington argues.
It is, however, questioned whether elections alone could adequately capture the essence of the concept of democracy. Larry Diamond elaborated a key distinction between liberal democracy and electoral democracy. Liberal democracies not only have elections but also other important benchmarks of democracy. They have restrictions on the power of the executive, independent judiciaries to uphold the rule of law; protection of individual rights, and freedoms of expression, association, belief and participation, consideration for minority rights, limits on the ability of the ruling party to manipulate the electoral process, effective guarantees against arbitrary arrest, and minimum state control of the media.
Most electoral democracies lack these safeguards. The failed Zanu PF internal electoral processes and disputed elections in Zimbabwe pose critical questions about existence or depth of democracy in the country.
In Zimbabwe, electoral processes are only used as part of what Cameroonian anthropologist Benjamin Nyamnjoh described as “face powder democracy” meant to legitimise the continued rule of the political elite while citizens’ rights are trampled upon, without a deepening democratic culture and respect for fundamental civil and political liberties of citizens in electoral administration.
Whatever the definitions, democracy is a desirable form of government Zanu PF and other parties should fully embrace. Instead of suppressing the views and electoral preferences of its members by banning the district coordinating committees, Zanu PF should adopt 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 realise that democracy is critical as it celebrates diversity and tolerance. The idea of democracy is important because it does not just represent one value among many such as liberty, equality or justice but values that can link and mediate among competing issues and interests in society. It is a process that can assist Zanu PF in its battle for political survival.
Suppressing political dissent in order to stop either Emmerson Mnangagwa or Joice Mujuru from political ascendancy in the current succession battles is undemocratic, parochial and myopic.
Another critical factor 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 conflict resolution open to participants in a public process. Zanu PF succession battles which led to the disbanding of the district coordinating committees have stifled democratic processes in the party and silenced people temporarily but the menace of infighting remains. It will manifest itself in other organs of the party and if Zanu PF thinks that disbanding its vibrant structures is the solution then it will surely end up dissolving itself!
- Ruhanya is a PhD candidate on Media and Democracy at the University of Westminster, London.