Friday, April 20, 2012
By The Post
Fri 20 Apr. 2012, 12:00 CAT
POLITICAL parties have a very important role to play. And a lot of attention needs to be devoted to their organisation and development. For political parties to live long and be of value to society, they need to have objectives that go beyond putting in office, putting in State House their founders.There is something seriously worrying about the nature and organisation of most of our political parties, if not all. It would seem most of our political parties are founded with the sole objective of putting their founders in State House. And when that fails, they disintegrate or go into oblivion.
To avoid this, there is need to institutionalise the operations and organisation of our political parties so that they start to have a life that is beyond and that is separate from their founders.
If this is done, we will have political parties that live for a very short time because they were nothing but special purpose vehicles for getting into office their founders.
There is need to strengthen intra-party democracy so that our political parties are not dominated by one individual with the largest political clout or the deepest pockets. The danger of this is that when the most popular element leading the party loses an election or dies, the party disintegrates because everything was organised and anchored on that person.
There is also the danger of the party being dependent on the finances of one person, the person leading it. When the pockets of that person dry up, the party dies unless there is another financier to take it up and lead it.
This is what has affected the progress of our political parties to varying degrees. UNIP was so dependent for its survival on the prestige and popularity enjoyed by Dr Kenneth Kaunda. After he lost elections in 1991 and could not re-contest in 1996, the party, in electoral terms, went into oblivion.
Despite having relatively more assets than other political parties, 20 years after being kicked out of office, UNIP today doesn't have a single member of parliament. Riding on the prestige of Dr Kaunda, his son, Tilyenji, took over the leadership of the party. But despite continued poor performance in elections, he has continued to hold on to the leadership of the party, come what may.
Tilyenji has decimated the party to a point where it today harbours no hope of a reversal of political fortunes. UNIP survives today because of the assets it has that the leadership is clinging to. UNIP today only exists for those who are enjoying the benefits of its assets.
In the minds and lives of our people, UNIP is dead. What has killed it? In our view, UNIP's poor performance or showing in elections is a result of its poor organisation and lack of adequate intra-party democracy which made it lose its militancy and capacity to mobilise.
Another political party that deserves analysis is the UPND. This was a party that was organised around one capable and popular individual, Anderson Mazoka, with the objective of making him president of the Republic.
When that failed and with his death, UPND started to experience seriously declining political fortunes or popularity. UPND was taken over by a person with no political clout and experience but one who was believed to have more money than his colleagues.
Today, UPND cannot claim to be a national political party; it has been reduced to a regional party supported mainly by members of its leaders' tribe, with very little support elsewhere. UPND is not showing any signs of rejuvenation or revival. This message is the same year after year, with its leader crying about his rights to also govern.
The party doesn't seem to be able to connect with the broad masses as a result of its narrow agenda. In three elections, UPND has been on the defensive, trying to justify why its leader should be president also instead of propagating a clear message that appeals to all Zambians.
Today, UNIP and UPND are joined by MMD. For 20 years, MMD survived on being parasitic to the state. It used government money and resources to buy votes and patronage. It got the support of those who benefitted from it being in power.
But that support base was reducing every year and eventually, things caught up with it. MMD was booted out of office last year by a political party with far much less resources than itself.
The PF won last year's elections on the basis of the popularity of its leader Michael Sata and on the broad support it got from a coalition of all the forces in the country that wanted change. And worse for UPND, it got itself into an electoral alliance with the MMD at its worst.
This was in a clearly stated belief of its leadership that no single opposition political party would defeat the MMD on its own. This demonstrated the political inexperience of the UPND leadership and its inability to read the mood in the nation.
PF won on its own to the total disbelief of the UPND and MMD leadership. And today, the UPND is caught by the MMD virus. If the cure is not found quickly, both of them are headed into oblivion. Changes are needed in both MMD and UPND. They need to reorganise themselves in terms of leadership and in terms of political direction.
Political parties should continue to change, adapt without losing their core values or principles. Political parties that do not change die. We hope this will not be the case for UPND and MMD as it seems to be the case for UNIP today. But there are also lessons for PF in all this.
If PF is not going to quickly move away from total reliance on Michael and his popularity, the party is going to face similar problems soon. It will survive as long as Michael is President of the Republic. But it will not cope with the challenges that will arise as soon as Michael is no longer the party leader.
And there is no need to pretend and behave as if Michael is going to be at the helm of PF forever. At most, Michael can only lead the PF for another nine years - and that is if he continues to be President after the next elections.
If he doesn't continue to be the President in 2016, the PF would have to find another leader before this time who is as popular or even more popular than Michael. The question is: what are the prospects for this? Is PF sufficiently institutionalising itself to survive the departure of Michael from its leadership?
A lot of effort will be required to institutionalise PF and make it less dependent on Michael because this is his party and it represents his vision. It is difficult to imagine how PF will be without Michael and without Guy Scott, one of its co-founders.
It is therefore important for our political parties, their leaders and members to pay special attention to the issues raised by Stefan Liebich, a member of the German parliament, that political parties should learn the art of survival in the opposition after losing elections.
The issues they have raised are important not only for the survival of our political parties but also for the development of our multi-party democracy.
We need experienced political parties. We cannot continue to have new political parties running the country at every turn. Let's pay more attention to the organisation of our political parties. We cannot have a thriving multi-party democracy without thriving political parties.