Friday, December 16, 2011

Let the opposition also participate in governing

COMMENT - One of the hallmarks of democracy is that you can get a clear policy break when the opposition is voted into office. When you do not, you have the failure of democracy, because people are no longer able to change national policy. Therefore, I am not in favour of too cozy a relationship between the party in power and the party in opposition - in what is essentially a two party system.

Let the opposition also participate in governing
By The Post
Fri 16 Dec. 2011, 13:59 CAT

IN a multi-party political system, society is not only led and governed by the party in government. Any plural society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected.

Therefore, the voices of democracy include those of the government, its political supporters and opposition, of course. But they are joined by the voices of the labour unions, organised interest groups, community associations, news media, scholars and critics, religious leaders and writers, small businesses and large corporations, churches and schools.

All these groups are free to raise their voices and participate in the democratic political process, whether locally or nationally. In this way, democratic politics acts as a filter through which the vocal demands of a diverse populace pass on their way to becoming public policy.

And it is in this regard that we have been calling for a "loyal opposition".

This idea is a vital one. It means, in essence, that all sides in a democracy share a common commitment to its basic values. 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 society must encourage tolerance and civility. When the election is over, the losers accept the judgement of the voters.

And no matter who wins, both sides must agree to co-operate in solving common problems of society. 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 democracy worthy of the name. They are loyal not to the specific policies of the government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state, and to the democratic process itself.

But let us not forget that people are only loyal to those who are loyal to them. We cannot ask for a loyal opposition if those in power are not willing to reciprocate and recognise the fact the opposition also has a legitimate role to play. Those in government should not expect the opposition to be supportive of their good policies or initiatives if in turn they themselves are not willing to listen to and support positive initiatives from the opposition.

Sylvia Masebo's advice to the PF government not to shoot anything down no matter how sensible it is simply because its origin is in the opposition should be heeded. There is no monopoly of wisdom in that House. Wisdom does not only lie with those in government. There are some men and women in the opposition who are probably wiser than some of the people in government. And there is no monopoly of patriotism in that House. Patriotism is not a preserve of only those in government. There are many patriots who are today in the opposition, some of them probably far more patriotic than those in government.

Let's allow ideas to come from any quarter. With or without us, our country should embrace the best policies or initiatives and move forward. Knowledge is a matter of science, and no dishonesty or conceit whatsoever is permissible. What is required is definitely the reverse - honesty and modesty. Complacency is the enemy of progress. We cannot really learn anything until we read ourselves of complacency. Our attitude towards ourselves should be "to be insatiable in learning" and towards others "to be tireless in teaching".

In transforming our economy, we will be confronted with arduous tasks and our experience is far from adequate. So we must be good at learning. As chairman Mao Tsetung once put it, "let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contained".

We would like our members of parliament to embrace everything that is good for our country, for our people, regardless of its origin. Both those in the opposition and those in government are our leaders, our legislators and they should co-operate to give our people the best. It is a crime for any member of parliament to reject or oppose a good initiative simply because it comes from the other side of the House and not from his or her side.

They are not in that House to serve sides. The people of Zambia are not interested in which side a member of parliament is on - the opposition side or the governing side. What they are interested in is that which is done in their interest. Members of parliament are in that House to serve the people and not to serve themselves or the interests of their political groups. It is therefore unacceptable for those on the government side to oppose anything that comes from the opposition side for the sake of it even if it is something that is in the best interests of our people.

They must serve the people wholeheartedly, heart and soul, and never for a moment should they divorce themselves from the masses. They should proceed in all cases from the interests of the people and not from one's self-interest or from the interests of a small group. There should be utter devotion to others, to the people without any thought of self. There must be a spirit of absolute selflessness in our members of parliament.

It is their duty to hold themselves responsible to the people. Every word, every act and every policy of theirs must conform to the people's interest. They must be ready at all times to stand up for the truth, because truth is in the interest of the people. And they must be ready at all times to correct their mistakes, because mistakes are against the interests of the people. And on no- account should they follow blindly.

We expect our members of parliament to set an example in being practical as well as far-sighted. For only by being practical can they fulfil their appointed tasks, and only far-sightedness can prevent them from losing their bearings in the march forward. They must be the least prejudiced in sizing up situations.

We have no doubt that the Zambian people would like to see a Parliament in which all sides co-operate to give them the best. They are not interested in unnecessary or unjustified divisions and opposition to each other. The Zambian people are interested in an opposition that respects and co-operates with the ruling party in matters of public interest.

They are also interested in a ruling party that understands and respects the fact that the opposition has a legitimate role to play in the governance of our country and those in power should co-operate with the opposition when it has policies and initiatives that are in the best interest of our people. It should not be opposition for the sake of opposition.

It should only be opposition for the sake of ensuring that all that is tabled in the House, by whoever, is cleansed of its weaknesses, of its vices, of its faults before it becomes public policy.

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