Monday, April 22, 2013

An eagle does not hunt flies
By Editor
Mon 22 Apr. 2013, 14:00 CAT

In a multiparty political dispensation, 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.
And moreover, the ground rules of society must encourage tolerance and civility in political or public discourse.

No matter who is in power, no matter who has won or lost an election, all must agree to cooperate in solving the common problems of the nation, of society. The role of the opposition is essential in any multiparty democracy worthy of the name. And any opposition political party that refuses to cooperate with those who have won elections and formed government, those in power, is not fit to be part of the opposition.

In a multiparty political arrangement, the ruling party and opposition are competitors in the same political arena just as much as two opposing soccer teams are competitors on the same pitch. For a proper soccer match to take place, both sides must cooperate while each competes to score more goals against the other. Without the other side, there is no soccer match - there can only be a team or teams. In a multiparty political system, there is continuous engagement of the opposition and those in government. The two have to work together in order to propel society forward. There has to be a unity of opposites between the opposition and the governing party. The two - the opposition and the ruling party - are two sides of the same coin. And this is why there has to be a loyal opposition, without which there can be no unity of opposites in such a multiparty political system. And without the unity of the opposition and the governing party, national unity and cooperation is threatened and, with it, the progress of the nation and the wellbeing of citizens.

It is therefore important that those who are in the opposition and those who are in the ruling party learn to work together. Of course, the two may not be at the same level of political strength or popularity. And sometimes, the opposition may be very weak and small but still it is opposition and deserves a proportionate recognition. The opposition also should not fall into simply believing that because it is called opposition, then it should automatically be given the political clouts that it has not earned. This is why sometimes small opposition political parties come together to form an opposition alliance or coalition so that collectively, they can have a bigger clout and consequently a relatively bigger recognition. This is politics and this is how it works. The bigger the clout of the opposition, the bigger its influence. The bigger the influence of the opposition, the bigger the cooperation expected from it. Those with more to give, more is expected of them.

Multiparty politics is not about enmity between those in the opposition and those in government. It is about cooperation between those in government and those in the opposition. When this cooperation totally breaks down, multiparty politics ceases and the country should be expected to head in the direction of insurrection, chaos and turmoil.
There are some people who erroneously think an opposition politician cannot be involved in government projects. How will an opposition member of parliament function without working with government ministers on various issues affecting his or her constituency? How will an opposition member of parliament resolve the many problems and challenges his or her people are facing without visiting and dealing with government ministers?

Harry Nkumbula, as leader of the opposition, seems to have understood this very well and encouraged opposition African National Congress members to work with Dr Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP government. In 1965, Harry called a meeting of leading ANC leaders and advised them not to stay away from Dr Kaunda's government because doing so served nobody's interests. He even advised them to give him a list of leading ANC cadres for appointments in the UNIP government. We are told a list was drawn of ANC cadres, who included even the current Southern Province minister Daniel Munkombwe, and given to Dr Kaunda for appointments. All those on that list were appointed to various government positions. This didn't make Harry a lesser opposition leader. This didn't make the ANC a ruling party. Of course, the political situation changed over the years, necessitating a one-party state. Again, when the necessity for a one-party state came, Harry and the ANC leadership responded favourably to it. It's not our intention to go into the merits or demerits, into the necessity or otherwise of a one-party state. Our position on this score has been repeatedly made clear: we believe that the single party state, except at rare moments in history, is a recipe for tyranny, a disaster.

We also believe that authentic multiparty democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules but the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life. If there is no general consensus on these values, the deepest meaning of democracy is lost and its stability compromised.

We therefore agree with observations made by Helen Polley, an Australian senator who recently visited our country, that there must be mutual respect between the opposition and the party in government and that this was key in advancing developmental projects. Polley pointed out that there was need for coordinated action and that our politicians should put their differences aside to ensure the best outcome and that the needs of the community must be put first. This is the only sure way the opposition can truly and responsibly hold the government accountable and ensure transparency in its decisions and actions.

There is also need for the government to set high standards in its dealings with the opposition. Those in government should be expected to show maturity, sensitivity and respect in their dealings with those in the opposition. Sometimes those in the opposition can be very trivial, very narrow in their discourse, but it would be suicidal for those in government to also sink that low. Sometimes the opposition is too small compared to the ruling party to take such high levels of responsibility. There is no need for the government to try and kill a fly with a hammer - the eagle doesn't hunt flies. Tolerance requires the powerful to ignore nuisances from the weak and concentrate on more important things.


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