HomeLocal NewsMarch 26 by-elections and the quest for servant representation

March 26 by-elections and the quest for servant representation

DECEMBER 17, 2010, will forever be etched in the annals of global history because what appeared to be a normal day quickly took a nasty turn when then 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vendor self-immolated, triggering the Arab Springs.

Growing up in Sidi Salah, a small village near the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi went by the moniker “Basbous”, loosely translated to mean one who makes jokes.

He was described as a comical character but in the last years of his life, he was no longer as funny. Life’s daily stresses had their toll on him and he once remarked to his cousin Ali Bouazizi that: “I am tired and fed up, I cannot breathe anymore.”

On the fateful day, police confiscated his wares for operating without a licence and it is alleged that during the confrontation, female officers slapped him, publicly humiliating him.

He went to the governor’s office to lodge a complaint, but was again denied audience. Bouazizi came back to the governor’s offices where he self-immolated, sustaining serious injuries. He succumbed to the injuries on January 4, 2011.

However, the story of Bouazizi is not unique to Tunisia or the Arab world but is a reflection of how an ordinary man is treated by those in power.

Provincial governors, MPs, presidents, and ministers, among other public officials, are mandated to operate on behalf of the people, hence the term, public servants.

On the contrary, just like the officers, who slapped Bouazizi, the weak and poor continue to be desecrated by those who must protect them.

During political rallies, it has been the usual gospel that politicians take the podium to promise heaven to the electorate. Chief among the promises is the adoption of an open-door policy wherein they will embrace everyone regardless of social or economic status.

But just like the aforementioned governor, people are always denied access to those who are “serving them”.

Zimbabweans are going to the polls on March 26 to fill 28 vacant parliamentary seats and 105 local authority seats, which fell vacant following recalls, deaths and postings to diplomatic missions.

This is another opportunity for the citizenry to elect people who will effectively serve their interests, deal with the scourge of corruption, provide or create jobs and instil confidence in the country’s governance system.

Political representation is considered one of the vital cogs of a democratic society, but it is oftentimes seriously abused.

Political analyst Tanaka Mandizvidza said: “A distinguishing feature of democratic governance is that the electorate chooses leaders through regular, multiparty, and competitive elections, which are seen as the primary mechanisms for political representation.”

While this is based on theory, what has been happening in post-independence Zimbabwe is a cause for concern and casts questions on the effectiveness of representative democracy in the country.

According to Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori, politicians and their parties should be “instruments for representing the people by expressing their demands”, but what is prevalent is that they have turned to be instruments fashioned to oppress those who they purport to represent.

The representatives should be aware of people’s interests and they are not assumed to know without consultation what those interests are.

They ought to consult with those they represent and to be responsive to their concerns but alas many act out of their own accord as long as it advances their personal agendas.

That becomes the reason some legislators end up abusing the Constituency Development Fund while others demand three-course meals when attending parliamentary sittings. Some have further made ridiculous demands of being allocated special fuel service stations to access the commodity, among other things.

Political analysts believe this upcoming election should be a litmus test for politicians to strongly consider the plight of the electorate.

In the words of Kenyan researcher and academic Patrick Lumumba, the problem with many Africans is that “… they elect lions to take care of the goats”.

University of Zimbabwe senior lecturer in the department of politics and governance, Prolific Mataruse said: “We must not allow ourselves to succumb to the intellectual laziness of opinions by giving easy answers to complex problems. The challenge is that most solutions today do not listen to what the excluded have to say.”

He further called upon people to pay attention to how the subalterns have been represented and what needs to be done to correct the mismatch.

It has since been pointed out that the problem of voting for candidates on the basis of party affiliation in the absence of competence has seriously inflicted damage on the country’s economic growth prospects.

Academics Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz argue that in African political systems a particular understanding of representation is entrenched which is firmly anchored on the patrimonial system.

“This means, for instance, that on the whole, voters do not vote because they support the ideas, even less read the programmes, of a particular political party, but because they must placate the demands of their existing or putative patron,” he said. “If voters continue to vote for councillors and MPs purely based on party lines at the expense of capability, their lives will continue to be miserable because many local politicians are in political affairs to enjoy its benefits than serve the people.”

Such a scenario has triggered a situation where the country boasts of legislators who sleep in the National Assembly as well as making meaningless jokes.

Ethnicity issues are another challenge that voters have to be wary of come March 26 by elections.

The late academic Masipula Sithole once noted that while it is rare to find a politician explicitly campaigning on ethnic lines in Zimbabwe, voters still vote on the basis of ethnic identities.

It is not always the case that a person from your ethnic group has your interests at heart. One who is adequately able to serve the people’s interests is one who practices living politics.

Going forward, the electorate must consider candidates whose ideology is explicitly entrenched in emancipatory politics concentrating on the politically downtrodden like the poor, the youth, women, among others.

The power to choose who will serve people’s interests is in the hands of the people.

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