Wednesday, August 04, 2010

MMD: change your name if you can’t change your behaviour

MMD: change your name if you can’t change your behaviour
By Editor
Wed 04 Aug. 2010, 04:00 CAT

Alexander the Great once said to a soldier who also had the same name but was sluggish, mean and cowardly: “Either change your name or change your behaviour.”

The MMD, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, does not deserve this name anymore. There is nothing about being a movement for multi-party and democracy in the behaviour, conduct or practices of the MMD. The MMD has no more than the name of multi-party and of democracy. Its practices and conduct are of a one party state, and not a multi-party society; they are of dictatorship and not democracy.

There is no way a party that calls itself a movement for multi-party democracy can go round telling the people of Zambia not to vote for the opposition because only ruling party, MMD candidates are capable of bringing development as a result of their attachment to the government and control of national resources. What do they want? A de facto one party state?

We do appreciate that the current key players in the MMD are people who defended the one party political system to its grave. Rupiah Banda was with UNIP, defending the one party state and looking at multi party politics as savage politics. And his principal cadre, William Banda, brutalised so many people in the defence of the one party state until recently when he joined the party he despised in so many ways.

These people have no commitment to, and understanding of, what it means to live in a multi party society. They have no value for the opposition. To them, the opposition is a nuisance that no one should support, and one that should be done away with.

There is no way this country can deepen or consolidate its multi party democracy with elements like Rupiah and William at the helm of its politics.

These are not promoters of multi party politics and of democracy. They seem to be permanently wedded to the one party dictatorship mentality. In everything, they see the vanguard. To them, the MMD is not different from UNIP – it is a vanguard party. But we know that the single party state, whether de jure or de facto, except at rare moments in history, is a recipe for tyranny. We have learnt from our experience and experience of others that the concept of the ruling party as a vanguard is a disaster.

And judging by the record of the past, the two most decisive factors affecting the future consolidation of democracy in our country will be economic development and political leadership. We say economic development because it makes democracy possible. We are also here talking of political leadership because it makes democracy real.

The political campaign that Rupiah and his friends are waging and the messages that they are sending are not in any way advancing or promoting multi party democracy. They are instead discouraging it, killing it. And this is not in accord with the spirit of our Constitution and in line with the history and ideals of the MMD. In a word, Rupiah and his friends are killing the MMD and what it stands for, and are replacing it with the outlook and ideals of UNIP.

To us, all the political parties in this country are important. Even those which do not have the capacity to win a single council seat are also very important and must be protected and promoted. Ours will not be a multi party democracy if only the ruling party is given space to exist and function effectively while others are denied the opportunity to exist and prosper.

Political parties are supposed to recruit, nominate and campaign to elect public officials; draw up policy programmes for the government if they are in the majority; offer criticisms and alternative policies if they are in opposition; mobilise support for common policies among different interest groups; educate the public about public issues; and provide structure and rules for the nation’s political debate. The election campaigns that political parties conduct may often be elaborate, time-consuming and sometimes silly. But the function of these political parties is dead serious: to provide a peaceful and fair method by which the citizens of our country can elect their leaders and have a meaningful role in determining their own destiny.

It’s clear that although multi party democracy may be a word familiar to most, it is a concept that is still misunderstood and misused in a time when tyrants of all shapes have attempted to claim popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves. Given the current behaviour of the MMD leadership, can any of them today really claim to be committed to the promotion and consolidation of multi party politics in our country?

There is need to realise, and quickly so, that our multi party democracy is more than a set of constitutional rules and procedures that determine how a government functions. In a multi party democracy, the ruling party and its government are just one element co-existing in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organisations and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organised groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government, the ruling party for their existence, legitimacy or authority.

In a multi party democracy, political competitors don’t necessarily have to like each other, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play. Moreover, the ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in political competition. And this cannot be advanced by someone going round, telling people not to vote for the opposition because they are not in control of government resources required for the development of their areas. This is corruption. This encourages corruption and it forces people’s representatives to start using their own personal money to develop their constituencies when those in the ruling party are using public funds. This distorts democracy as it makes it impossible for those in the opposition to compete with those in the ruling party in terms of resources. This may lead to the entrenchment of the ruling party and distort democracy. And we know the consequences of what happens when democracy is distorted; when people are denied real political choices – they stop voting with ballot papers and start doing so with their blood. Is this the type of political system we want to build in this country? The answer is a categorical NO.

What the people of Zambia want is a multi party democracy in which the ground rules encourage tolerance and civility so that when the election is over, the losers accept the judgment of the voters. If the incumbent party loses, it turns over power peacefully. And no matter who wins, both sides agree to co-operate in solving the common problems of our nation. And the opposition, whether it consists of one party or many, can continue to participate in public life, with the knowledge that its role is essential in any multi party democracy worth the name. This leads to having a loyal opposition. And this idea of a loyal opposition is a vital one. It means, in essence, that all sides in a multi party democracy share a common commitment to its basic values.

In a multi party democracy, elections are not a fight for survival, but a competition to serve. And this service is not about one using his own money to run a ward, a parliamentary constituency or indeed for one who wins the presidency to use his money to run the country. It involves the making of laws and the distribution of resources which the government should apportion fairly and justly to our people so that development is more equitable and effective.

Every one of us has the right to support and vote for a political party of his or her choice. But all of us have a common commitment, regardless of the political party we support, to defend, protect, advance and consolidate our multi party political system. And in this regard, no one should tolerate political campaigns that undermine to the core, the essence of our multi party political system. You can undermine the political positions and support base of your political competitors but never try to do so at the risk of weakening our entire multi party political system. We will not be able to hold democratic elections if we weaken our multi party political system. And for this reason, the campaign of Rupiah and the MMD that is premised on weakening the foundations of our multi party political system should be denounced and discredited in every possible way.

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