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Elections, The Electorate And Political Parties: Who Stands Where?

Recent political developments in Zimbabwe have triggered debate  on whether elections are indeed  about the electorate or are more  about the person being voted for, their  party affiliation and the seat they are running for? In an election who matters most, the voter, the candidate, the seat or the political party? In Zimbabwe, the legislative mandate is drawn from the people through elections. Therefore, from a voter perspective, elections are about regime change or retention. Loosely translated, an election is a process of affirmation for one’s support and confidence in the status quo or an expression of their discontent.

By Desmond Muchadei Sharukai and Tonderai Dombo

The recalling of MPs is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwean political history. One would remember the recalls of estranged ZANU PF MPs in 2014 and 21 opposition MPs who left the Morgan Tsvangirai led MDC under the MDC Renewal project in the same year. What has made this time peculiar is the scale and also the circumstances the main opposition finds itself in, with a vast number of its sympathizers failing to understand the rationale behind such arbitrary political party power on display against the wishes and choices of the electorate.

The expectation by the electorate after an election is that the elected member of parliament or councilor, represents their collective interest. Failure to do so, those who would have voted them in should have the right to collectively recall this individual. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Zimbabwe. Section 129(1) (k) of the Constitution, gives power to a political party to recall a parliamentarian who was voted for under its banner. This perhaps is the greatest travesty of electoral democracy in contemporary politics. This is a direct mockery of the will of the people as expressed through the vote, giving the impression that the electorate surrenders political agency to political parties immediately after elections. This is a reality that voters are not exposed to when it comes to  elections, as the illusion that their voices will be heard in parliament and council is all they have to hold on to, yet in reality these are arenas of political party contestation.

Section 117(1) of the Zimbabwean constitution posits that legislative authority is derived from the people and is exercised in accordance with said Constitution by the Legislature. It is therefore undoubtable that legislative authority comes from the people, and not from political parties. Therefore, the critical political and legal question is: how rational and legally correct is it for the Constitution to bestow the power and authority to recall elected officials, who were voted for by people of different socio-political ideologies and identities, on political parties?

Indeed, there is discord in this approach which is more logical in a Proportional Representation (PP) system and not in the First Past the Post (FPP) system which Zimbabwe uses. It is however prudent to mention that Zimbabwe has a hybrid election system which basically has both First Past the Post (for national assembly) and Proportional Representation (for Senate and the Women’s Quota). However, in relation to recall, in proportional representation it’s the political parties who reserve the right to recall and in first past the post it should be the electorate.

Section 129 (1) (k) when translated, one would argue, is bad at law and needs to be toned down or outright repealed because it creates the chaos we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today. In the end it brings with it a financial burden to taxpaying citizens when by-elections are eventually called for because MPs and councilors are recalled by their parties, without the consent of those who voted for them in the first place, for not towing the party line. It is undoubtable that the decision to recall elected officials should be up to the voter and this right must be protected by the law. This will not only increase accountability of the elected officials to their constituencies but also ensure legislators’ loyalty belongs to the people first and political party second.

Desmond Muchadei Sharukai is a Zimbabwean human rights activist based in Oslo, Norway. He specializes in Youth development and elections and can be reached on [email protected]

Tonderai Dombo is a human rights activist based in Tromso Norway. He can be reached on [email protected]

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