Saturday, February 22, 2014

Evils in our politics
By Editor
Mon 02 Dec. 2013, 14:00 CAT

Elfreda Kansembe, home affairs deputy, says the dawn of modern politics in the recent decades has come with all sorts of evils.

It is true that our multiparty political dispensation has come with many vices. Instead of uniting our people to solve their common problems, multiparty politics has divided them. Everything seems to have been politicised along partisan lines. Good things are criticised and undermined for no good reason other than narrow partisan interests.

Similarly, bad things are defended for no good reason other than narrow partisan interests. This is not good politics because multiparty politics was not designed to paralyse society; it was designed to unite people in all their diversities and complexities to co-operate in solving the common problems of society.

One of the most important things in a country is unity - of the people and of all their forces. How can a country solve its problems and stand firm if it is split up in several pieces? A nation that is divided into countless parts can't tackle its basic problems.

Our multiparty political dispensation seems to have divided the people into petty political parties that bring no guidance to the nation. It seems to have weakened the people and set one humble section against others. It seems to have divided the ignorant and misled people into factions supporting unscrupulous and greedy politicians. Thus, it has weakened the people; it has confused the people and has made multiparty politics appear to be an artifice aimed at dividing the people. The form of political organisation should promote unity, if possible. The unity of our people is vital for us as a nation to solve our problems. It is only through the unity of the whole nation that poverty can be defeated. And it is, therefore, imperative for us to overcome anything that impairs this unity.

And with multiparty politics, we have seen a resurgence of politics of violence. And it shouldn't be forgotten that it was the political violence of the late 1960s that led to the formation of the one-party state. And it can also not be denied that during the period of the one-party state, there was no political violence in the country. The tribalism and regionalism that had characterised the politics of the late 1960s also ended with the introduction of the one-party state.

During the one-party state, money became a much lesser factor in politics. Anyone could set themselves a political agenda without needing much money. But with the reintroduction of multiparty politics, money became a big factor in elections. The electoral process became a target of political prostitution. The crooked, the corrupt prostituted it to falsify the will and interests of the people. So many times, the electoral process was used to put into office the most inept, most shrewd, most corrupt, rather than the most competent and the most honest. In the 2011 elections, we saw the most treacherous and corrupt politicking and electioneering, which has led to so many parliamentary elections nullified. Cheating and lying in politics has become the order of the day since our return to multiparty politics. Politics based on morality, values and principles died.

One seldom hears about principles, values, standards or common aims in today's political discourse. Politics is today like gambling in a casino. Our whole political arena has become a huge casino, with politicians and their supporters changing their positions like cards being shuffled.

But we know very well that the individual does best in a strong and decent community of people with principles and standards and common aims and values. This being the case, let us try in a new time and in a new way to restore morality, principles, values, standards in our politics. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics should be an expression of a desire to contribute to the happiness of the community, of the nation rather than of a need to cheat or rape the community, the nation.

Our multiparty political dispensation has unleashed, in our politics, a wave of selfishness that is difficult to accept. We seem to have forgotten the primary purpose of politics. It is necessary to remind ourselves that politics should be for the good of the people and the country, and not for the political survival of any individual or political party. If the spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all of us, we would not witness the wrangling, bickering and power-struggling which leaves the public dismayed and disheartened. If the spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all our politicians and their supporters, we would not be witnessing the violence that characterises our election campaigns and we would see campaigns being carried out in a peaceful and honest way, devoid of any violence and slander of political opponents.

Multiparty politics has unleashed a fierce competition for power or political office that seems to have no limits. In the present atmosphere of fierce competition and character assassination, it is important to remind ourselves, once again, of the noble goals of political activity - the promotion of the common good and the service of all the people.

In saying all this, we are not in any way calling for a return to one-party state politics. For all the deficiencies of our multiparty political dispensation, we should never even for a moment think of returning to a one-party state political system. We say this because the single party state, except at rare moments in history, is a recipe for tyranny. What we have learnt from the Soviet experience and from the African experience is that the concept of the party as a vanguard which has the right to rule by virtue of calling itself something and which is entrenched in the constitution as a permanent godfather of this society, is a disaster.

But again in saying this, we should be mindful of the fact that as much as multipartism can indeed favour democracy, it cannot always guarantee it. Democracy, like any other human institution, is vulnerable and fragile. And as Pope John Paul II aptly put it, "Authentic democracy is possible only in a state ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person."

Democracy is a demanding form of government, and neither leaders nor common citizens are naturally prepared for it. Therefore, a long process of moral and civic education is required in order to understand and implement a real participatory democracy. 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.

It is common knowledge that no system is perfect, as any system can be manipulated in order to exploit the very people whose best interests it is meant to serve.

In any true democracy, more is needed than political institutions and practices such as voting. We must hold on to some values, standards, principles, norms, common aims, 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, support the same programme. True believers in multiparty democracy welcome dialogue and debate over views contrary to their own because they realise that they themselves may not always be right. They recognise that there is a specific role to be played by each different organisation in a spirit of unity amidst diversity. This value of respect for diversity and dialogue means a realisation that political parties are important but they are not the only actors in a democracy.

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