Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learn to compromise

Learn to compromise
By The Post
Tue 12 Feb. 2013, 14:50 CAT

We have repeatedly stated that democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted.

A democratic society needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for tolerance. And it is for this reason that the culture of democracy is so important to develop.

Individuals and groups, political or otherwise, must be willing, at a minimum, to tolerate each other's difference, recognising that the other side has valid rights and a legitimate point of view. The various sides to an issue should meet in a spirit of compromise and seek a specific solution that builds on the general principle of majority rule and minority rights. They should reach consensus or accommodation through debate and compromise.

We have also repeatedly stated that coalition-building is the essence of democratic action. It teaches political players and other interest groups to negotiate with others, to compromise and to work within the constitutional system. By working to establish coalition, groups with differences learn how to argue peaceably, how to pursue their goals in a democratic manner and ultimately how to live in a world of diversity.

Clearly, democracy is not a set of revealed, unchanging truths, but the mechanism by which, through the clash and compromise of ideas, the people, individuals, political parties and other institutions can, however imperfectly, reach for truth.

Democracy is pragmatic. Ideas and solutions to problems are not tested against a rigid outlook, but tried in the real world where they can be argued over and changed, accepted or discarded.
Katele Kalumba is right when he advises political leaders to learn to engage each other on various issues that concern Zambians in order to diffuse tension amongst themselves.

And it is seldom, as Katele correctly observes, that a well-meaning government would refuse to dialogue with political parties that adopt peaceful, respectful methods of taking on government. Even at the individual level, if you want someone to listen to you, you have to approach them in a manner that is peaceful and respectful. You don't need to agree with somebody to be peaceful or respectful. If you approach someone in an antagonistic manner, in a disrespectful manner, their response is not likely to be positive. And this is why we have consistently argued for a loyal opposition - a concept that has been difficult for some politicians like Hakainde Hichilema to understand, appreciate and accept.

We have explained that in calling for a loyal opposition, we are not in any way urging the opposition to become docile and start worshipping those in power. We are simply urging them to be loyal not to the specific policies of those in government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state, and to the democratic process itself. This is so because no matter who wins elections and forms government, both sides must agree to cooperate, must work together in solving the common problems of society. 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, social and economic discourse.

It is important to realise that many of these tensions we are facing today are present in almost every democratic society. There seems to be a paradox here. A central paradox seems to exist between conflict and consensus. Democracy is in many ways nothing more than a set of rules for managing conflict.

At the same time, this conflict must be managed within certain limits and result in compromises, consensus or other agreements that all sides accept as legitimate. An overemphasis on one side of the equation can threaten the entire undertaking. If groups, political parties, perceive democracy as nothing more than a forum in which they can press their demands, the society can shatter from within. If the government exerts excessive pressure to achieve consensus, stifling the voices of the people, the society can be crushed from above.
This calls for a lot of patience. Those without patience and tolerance cannot live and achieve much in a democracy.

Of course, some ignorant people would see compromise, consensus-building as something that is not acceptable. They equate compromise with selling out. And only they can make compromises; can build coalitions and alliances without being accused of selling out. Others are not allowed to do the same, to work with others, to compromise and build consensus. We saw so many innocent victims of false accusations of selling out. In politics, especially in democratic politics, one cannot afford to be stiff-necked.

And by encouraging compromise and consensus-building, we are not in any way encouraging opportunism. The two are very different and distinct. To compromise is not to become an opportunist. Compromise is pragmatism. And one cannot remove pragmatism from democratic politics. As for opportunism, Lenin gave us a very clear description: "An opportunist, by his very nature, will always evade taking a clear and decisive stand. He will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to 'agree' with both and reduce his differences of opinion to petty amendments, doubts, innocent and pious suggestions, and so on and so forth."
There are others also who look at compromise as a sign of weakness. To compromise is not a sign of weakness. It is actually a demonstration of strength of character.

There is no need to go on a head-on collision in which all the parties perish regardless of their relative strength or weakness. A buffalo is a very strong but stupid animal that never attempts to take compromises and avoid head-on fights. The buffalo, in our view, can be said to be the second strongest animal in our jungles after the elephant. But it is always losing fights to the lion, an animal that is relatively less strong than itself. This is so simply because the lion knows how to take compromises, how to engage in tactical retreats. And in a word, the lion is not suicidal in its fights. It knows how to avoid unnecessary and self-destructive fights. Some of our politicians are yet to learn this. They would do well going into our jungles to learn how to engage in political fights meaningfully from the lion.

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