Saturday, October 20, 2012

What type of political parties should we have?

What type of political parties should we have?
By The Post
Fri 19 Oct. 2012, 17:00 CAT

Clement Andeleki, the Chief Registrar of Societies, says political parties that fail to gain political ground within two years will be deregistered. He further warns that political parties that do not actively participate in elections but only endorse others would also be deregistered once the amendment of the societies Act is done.

According to the Chief Registrar of Societies, political parties were supposed to take part in elections instead of just endorsing, ratifying other political parties during elections.

We disagree with chief Registrar of Societies. Direct participation in elections should not be a condition for the continued existence of a political party. It is not necessary for every political party to have its name and candidates on ballot papers at election time. There are many examples in the world of very important political parties that do not directly participate in elections.

In South Africa, the South African Communist Party, which has been in existence since 1921, does not directly field candidates in elections. But its members participate in elections under the African National Congress. Not directly fielding candidates in elections cannot reduce the importance of the South African Communist Party's participation in the politics and governance of that country. This is a party whose members and leaders made gigantic sacrifices in the struggle against Apartheid.

Its members and leaders displayed heroism, an incredible sense of discipline and a capacity for selflessness, as well as a quiet determination not to bend the knee to the dictates of tyrants. This was not done in pursuit of political positions through participation in elections.

This party is a product of, and is propelled by, a willingness to make sacrifices for a loftier purpose than just by participating in elections. There is a recognition, among those who struggle for loftier purposes, of the need for a united front and of the fact that no struggle can be waged effectively in isolation.

And as Nelson Mandela once noted, "For many decades, communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us and work with us".

There are many political parties in other parts of the world that have subordinated themselves to broader movements and do not directly participate in elections, but have continued to legally maintain their independent existence, identity and character. For instance, there may be no need for a green party to directly participate in elections when it can easily support a more broad-based party that is willing to embrace its agenda if elected into power.

Endorsing a candidate of another political party and campaigning for that candidate is, and should be, an acceptable and important form of political participation. In the 2008 presidential elections, FDD under the leadership of Edith Nawakwi and Sakwiba Sikota's United Liberal Party decided to support the candidature of Rupiah Banda and went all over the country campaigning for him. Can one say that was not meaningful political participation on the part of FDD and United Liberal Party?

Political parties do not need to be deregistered or to disband themselves simply because they cannot directly field candidates in an election. There is nothing wrong in a political party identifying itself with another political party that is probably bigger or more popular than itself.

Political parties are not there just to participate in elections. They can participate in elections if they want to, but there are also many other important and necessary political activities that they can engage in outside elections.

Political parties can be as varied as the societies in which they function. And their function, in whichever way they choose to participate, is dead serious: to provide a peaceful and fair method by which the citizens of a democracy can select their leaders and have a meaningful role in determining their own destiny.

We know that democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One is that, given the chance, people are generally capable of governing themselves in a manner that is fair and free. Another is that any society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected. As a result, one thing is true of all healthy democracies: they have many political parties or groupings.

And all should be free to raise their voices and participate in the democratic political process. In this way, democratic politics acts as a filter through which the vocal demands of a diverse populace pass on the way to becoming public policy.

Clearly, the right to participation in governance requires participatory democracy. Participatory democracy requires, not only democratic structures, but also the reign of democratic values in the hearts and minds of the people. Democratic structures without the corresponding democratic values in the hearts and minds of the people are rootless. There is need for a democratic culture characterised by the respect for the constitutional rights of the people. Our Constitution gives our people the right to form political parties of their own choice.

And it doesn't say that these political parties have to gain ground within a specified time through participation in elections for them to remain legally in existence. Imposing such a requirement would amount to taking away an important constitutional right of our people. But the question is: for what? What is troubling the Chief Registrar of Societies on this issue? What is really his problem?

We should be more interested in a lively spirit of democracy that will give full meaning to the political rights of our people as provided for in our Constitution and ensure success in fostering the welfare and progress of our country.

In any true democracy, more is needed than political institutions and practices such as voting and representation in Parliament. We must hold on to some values and norms, some expectations and aspirations. This is the environment, the atmosphere, that makes democracy work. This is the so-called "political culture" which we feel is so necessary in Zambia today if multiparty democracy is to succeed.

The fundamental value we must have is a respect for diversity and acceptance of pluralism. Gone are the days when everyone was supposed to think the same way, belong to the same party, and support the same programme.

A fundamental condition for the establishment of democracy is, therefore, the recognition of the rights of the person and social groups without any discrimination. A real democracy has to be built on the basis of justice, moral values and has to look to the common good. Democracy rests upon human rights. And these rights are not endowments of our governments, but the gifts of our Creator, and are enshrined in our Constitution.

There is no perfect form of human government. Abuses can take place in every system, but the fundamental value of democracy is to allow the participation of citizens in the government of their country. In this regard, democracy as a system of government is consonant with human rights and the respect of human dignity and freedom.

In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is explicit in affirming the value of political participation: "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of one's own country, directly or through freely chosen representatives."

Trying to put too many and unnecessary qualifications on the rights of political parties to legally exist violates the political rights of our people as provided for in the Constitution. And this being the case, what the Chief Registrar of Societies is proposing should not be allowed to be taken to Parliament and be made law. It should be opposed rigorously.

And it would seem the Chief Registrar wants to exercise a lot of power over political parties. This shouldn't be allowed. His role should be limited to the orderly facilitation of the work of political parties and not to be prescribing criteria for their existence.

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