Saturday, May 18, 2013

Parliamentary by-elections
By Editor
Wed 15 May 2013, 14:00 CAT

It is difficult to understand why Cornelius Mweetwa, the UNPD deputy spokesman, thinks dissolving Parliament and calling fresh elections will put an end to parliamentary by-elections.

You can hold early or fresh elections today and three months later, you may be holding parliamentary by-elections. This is so because the factors that give rise to parliamentary by-elections will not be taken away by the holding of early or fresh elections.

We have been holding elections over the last 23 years every five years or so, but these have not taken away parliamentary by-elections. If Cornelius just wants his party to have another go at power, let him simply say so. It seems 2016 is too far for them.

But if one is against parliamentary by-elections because they cost money, they should be more concerned about general elections that are even more expensive and complicated to manage. Clearly, it is not the cost Cornelius and his friends are concerned about. If they were in a position to win every parliamentary by-election that arises, they would not complain at all. They would actually encourage more by-elections so that they quickly alter the balance of power in the country and call the shots. And theirs is a political party that has always been fighting with whoever they are in an alliance with over fielding candidates in parliamentary by-elections.

They seem to be so eager to contest seats they think they can win in the same parliamentary by-elections they claim not to like. How is this possible? Moreover, one highly doubts if they themselves would refuse to be joined by a ruling party member of parliament who resigns to join them and thereby causing a parliamentary by-election!
If one is really concerned about the cost of parliamentary by-elections and is seeking ways to end them, the starting point should be to look critically at their causes.

We have parliamentary by-elections because the Constitution of our country allows them. It is a constitutional right of every member of parliament to decide which political formation he or she wants to associate with and change that whenever they find it desirable or expedient to do so. If parliamentary by-elections have to be ended, the starting point is to change the Constitution and outlaw them.
As long as they remain a constitutional right of every member of parliament from time to time, some will choose to exercise that right.

Of course, the drafters of our constitution didn't provide for parliamentary by-elections to encourage members of parliament to jump from one political party to another the way monkeys jump from one branch of a tree to another. But to achieve some stability in this regard, an enabling political culture is required. And this culture should encourage tolerance within members of a political party and among members of political parties. And there must be an equally high level of intra-party democracy so that members of a political party can freely express their views without being thrown out for holding views that are contrary to those of the party president and other dominant elements within a party.

Equally, there must be reasonable interaction between opposition members and those of the ruling party. Today, some of our politicians are in trouble for simply associating themselves with members of the ruling party or for agreeing with and supporting some government programmes. They are required by their political parties to have no co-operation at all with the government of the day. They are required not to support government programmes because this will strengthen the ruling party and perpetuate its stay in power.

It will be very difficult to avoid parliamentary by-elections under a political culture that does not recognise and accept the principle of loyal opposition.

The principle of loyal opposition encourages both the ruling and opposition politicians to co-operate, to work together in solving the problems of the nation. But those who are opposed to this principle seem to believe that the opposition has nothing to do with the ruling party when it comes to solving the problems of society. If the ruling party comes to them to seek co-operation, then it has failed to govern and it should call for fresh elections.

And looking at the behaviour of our opposition, is this really an opposition whose objectivity one can rely on and trust? Let's not forget that this is the opposition that supported Richard Kapita against judge Dr Patrick Matibini for the position of Speaker and fell short of it by one vote. Can Kapita really be chosen over Dr Matibini where merit is the criterion? Can a true patriot choose Kapita over Matibini for the position of Speaker? Imagine what Parliament would be like if they had gotten their way and made Kapita Speaker?

Members of parliament leave their political parties to join another party because the glue that is supposed to hold them to their party is weak or has become weak. And what is it that is supposed to bind members of a political party? The issue of political outlook or ideology. Most of our political parties don't have a declared political outlook or ideology.

For some, their political outlook seems to be that of tribe or region. Even their recruitment drive is all the time influenced by that. Certain politicians in their political parties are given senior political positions which they do not in any away deserve, or have not in any way earned, purely on account of their tribe.

A fellow who failed to win a parliamentary seat and has no meaningful political background, constituency or experience is appointed vice-president of a party on his day of joining simply because he hails from a certain tribe or province. That's the ideology that guides the decisions of some political parties like the one Cornelius belongs to. This is the glue that binds them. How strong and enduring can this glue be? Whenever it weakens, parliamentary by-elections are held.

And the decisions to cross or not to cross the floor are made by individual members of parliament belonging to such parties. Are they telling us that they have within their opposition ranks, bad and unprincipled members? Who adopted these members of parliament as candidates in the first place? Were they adopting candidates they don't know?

There is much more that needs to be done to end parliamentary by-elections than Cornelius seems to be suggesting.

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