Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Conflict of principles and opportunism in UNIP

Conflict of principles and opportunism in UNIP
By The Post
Tue 06 Nov. 2012, 11:20 CAT

Njekwa Anamela, the vice-president of UNIP, says it is not important for the ruling Patriotic Front to win the Mufumbwe parliamentary by-election, and an opposition candidate should be elected, because any good government must be able to work with any popularly elected leader.

From an idealistic position, this sounds very good and correct. It is actually the way things should be. But is this the reality in our country today?

We have opposition political parties that are complaining about their members of parliament being appointed to government positions. And some have completely stopped their members from taking up government positions or to be seen to be working with government in any way.

And UNIP, as far as we know, has never come out in the open to encourage opposition members of parliament to accept appointments to government positions. Well, we know that UNIP itself does not have a single member of parliament; it failed to secure any parliamentary seat in the last elections.

However, their position has the elements of both principledness and opportunism. From a position of principle, one cannot disagree with them that all - those in the opposition and in the ruling party - should cooperate in the governance of the country. Their position appears opportunistic because if it doesn't matter who wins in Mufumbwe, why shouldn't it be the ruling party winning instead of the opposition?

It is, however, important that the principled position being advanced by UNIP is not lost in its opportunism.

It is necessary to realise that what UNIP is effectively telling us is that politics, and the elections that accompany it, should be for the good of the people and the country, and not for the political survival of any individual or political party. And if this spirit of the primacy of the common good, which UNIP is advocating, were to animate all the political parties, we wouldn't witness the dirty, slanderous and sometimes violent election campaigns which leave the public dismayed and disheartened.

In the present atmosphere of fierce competition and character assassination, UNIP is somehow, albeit in a contradictory way, reminding the nation of the noble goals of political activity and elections. It is showing us that politics and elections should be aimed at the promotion of the common good and the service of all the people.

This also brings us to the important but controversial issue of "loyal opposition" we have been advocating. The only way what UNIP is advocating can be meaningfully realised is if there is an atmosphere or environment that promotes, encourages and accommodates or accepts the idea or concept of loyal opposition.

We say this because the concept of loyal opposition means, in essence, that all sides in a democracy share a common commitment to its basic values. And that no matter who wins the elections, all or both sides should agree to cooperate in solving the common problems of the society.

And as we have repeatedly pointed out, the political competitors don't necessarily have to like each other, although it would be good for the nation's peace and harmony if they liked each other, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play. And the political ground rules must encourage tolerance and civility in election campaigns and in public discourse in general.

What we saw in Mufumbwe raises a number of questions about the civility of our politicians and their ability or willingness to tolerate each other. The Mufumbwe parliamentary by-election was, to some great measure, characterised by lies, deceit, malice and slander. There was very little of policy options discourse.

We know that the MMD may now need a new manifesto because the old one may have been abandoned after their defeat in last year's elections. But this doesn't mean that their candidates in parliamentary by-election do not have their own outlook or personal vision for their constituency that they can campaign on.

It shouldn't be forgotten that democratic elections, at whatever level, are not a fight to survival, but a competition to serve. And that the purpose of these elections is to serve the common good.

The common good is the reason for the existence of politics and elections. This is so because politics and elections enable us to express our commitment and concern for each other; they call upon all of us to contribute and commit ourselves responsibly to building a peaceful and just society for all. Politics and elections must always have as their aim the achievement of the common good.

Elections are absolutely necessary in a democratic society. And it is sad to see them turned into a political circus. Elections should never be a matter of political mock engagements since that would break the sacred character of democracy. We value elections in as much as they ensure the participation of citizens in making political choices.

Election time is a time to vote for honest, courageous, hardworking and selfless candidates. It is not a time for feeling sorry for any candidate and elect them simply because they have contested many times and failed as UNIP candidate Stephen Kamwengo seems to be suggesting. Elections are an opportune time for us to review our past in order to prepare for better political choices for the future.

And Kamwengo should ask Mufumbwe voters to evaluate him and vote for him on the basis of his personal vision and in terms of his competence and reputation for honesty and selfless dedication to the common good. The way he is begging for votes seems to be too personal, it is as if it is something of value only to him and not to the electorate.

It's not about pity for a candidate - of course Kamwengo is entitled to self-pity - it is about service, concern for social justice, desire to work for the common good instead of self-enrichment or aggrandisement, disposition to use power for service, especially service of the poor and underprivileged, good moral standing, transparency and accountability to the electorate.

We hope UNIP will one day return to its old principled positions, of course, in a new way and in a new time, and reverse its political fortunes. Opportunism is what has brought UNIP to its current condition of near extinction.

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