Time to institutionalise POLAD?

24 Sep, 2023 - 00:09 0 Views
Time to institutionalise POLAD? President Mnangagwa (centre) and other political part leaders during the launch of POLAD in 2019

The Sunday Mail

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

It has been more than a month since the last election and, sadly for our country, those that failed to win continue to make unfounded claims that the election was stolen from them.

In fact — so desperate have been their unfounded cries they have even suggested that SADC will order and conduct new elections based on its preliminary report.

However, the SADC report has credible signs that the opposition had extensive input.

This has even prompted the SADC Secretariat to clarify, through its account on X (formerly Twitter), that nothing of the sort will happen: “SADC Electoral Observation Missions ONLY observe elections. SADC DOES NOT conduct elections in its Member States, but observes them. We then make recommendations. Understand the role of SADC when it comes to observing elections. Our mandate is only to observe and issue a report.”

Welcome as that clarification is — it does reveal a deeper problem: the fact that it had to be issued in the first place.

When a people use a certain system, practice or tool, they do so as a means to an end.

We have constitutional arrangements that say our system of government is electoral democracy, with cyclical elections every five years. We use these elections as a system for choosing leaders — because that is how electoral democracy — according to our legal tools, works.

The unspoken understanding is that we all understand what we are doing, and agree with it.  Sadly, evidence in Zimbabwe demonstrates that the understanding that we all understand electoral democracy is wrong.

While it would have been less ruinous if any ignorance was confined to a small segment of the populace that then stays away from the process, this would be normal.

After all — even when conceived in Greece more than two millennia ago — democracy had some that did not understand it and did not take part.

For these, the Ancient Greeks had a word: idi?t?s: meaning “a private person, one not engaged in public affairs”.

Sadly for us, however, ignorance as to the meaning of our version of liberal democracy pervades the very hierarchies of the main opposition.

It is small wonder that prior to the elections on August 23 — the CCC candidate for president Mr Nelson Chamisa — stated that if the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced any winner other than himself, then the election would have been neither free nor fair.

It is not a surprise that this has become the mantra from him.

But, and here is my problem, we have been down this road before.

In 2018, Mr Chamisa again lost. He took his case to the Constitutional Court, which not only declared that he had indeed lost, but painstakingly laid down the process that one must follow in order to bring a successful petition against the election of a president.

Come 2023, Mr Chamisa had the formula to use to mount a petition, and he did not.

The only sane conclusion is that when one knows the way to win a court case and chooses not to follow it, they know they have no basis on which to file a case.

He knew he had lost, so he did not file a challenge.

However — as in 2018 post his unsuccessful petition — Mr Chamisa maintains that he was robbed of victory and that he is the real winner.

World politics being what it is, with many geopolitical interests looking to capitalise on any excuse to justify the continued isolation of and sanctions against Zimbabwe, Mr Chamisa’s antics have real deleterious effects on the nation’s prospects.

Post 2018, President Mnangagwa instituted an initiative called the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD).

POLAD brought together all people that had participated in the 2018 presidential elections into a forum where they can dialogue about the country and the best ways to bring about rational disputation in our politics.

This initiative was novel in its creation, bringing together past electoral foes to talk about the country that each had sought to lead, but where only one can be chosen by the people.

Needless to say, Mr Chamisa decided to boycott this initiative, and continues to do so.

I posit that POLAD is not only a good initiative, but one that is now ripe for a legislative framework.

That framework would mandate that all candidates for the office of president must join POLAD upon the end of each election.

It would also legislate that any candidate aggrieved by the outcome of an election but fails to file a petition or files a petition and loses must accept the outcome and stop claiming that they won in order to be a member of POLAD or take part in future elections.

However, because no law can legitimately ban free speech except as provided for in the Constitution, nor force anyone to join any body or association, some choose not to join POLAD or to carry on claiming that they won the election.  The legislative framework I am proposing would provide that where this choice is made —then such a person must not be permitted to run for political office for a defined period of time — ideally the next cycle of elections.

Necessary amendments to other laws such as the Electoral Act would serve to bring this change in line with the Constitution.

This is not a novel idea.

Recently, the highest court in Brazil banned Mr Jair Bolsonaro from any public office for eight years because he made unfounded claims about the integrity of the Brazilian voting system.  The court reasoned that these claims had the effect of undermining the legitimacy of the country’s voting system.

In  the United States, the Republican Party has mandated that a pre-condition for being the party’s nominee and take part in its debates is that one must pledge to support the eventual winner, that is: not claim that they won and thus undermine the legitimacy of the winner.

Biased readers will claim that this proposal is meant to criminalise dissent.

It does not.

There is no need to create a crime for which someone can go to prison.

Not every wrong is a crime, but not every wrong that is not a crime should go unpunished.

For example, we know from the world of football that while betting on football matches is not a crime, when players get involved in betting they are punished with suspensions, because their actions bring the legitimacy of fair competition into question.

This must be same for politicians.

If they bring themselves before the public and are rejected, they must accept the voice of the people.

When they refuse to accept the voice of the people, and go about claiming that the voting system is illegitimate, it is the people that suffer.

The only way to protect the people is to make sure that such candidates do not get the opportunity to bring themselves in a position where they can make the same unfounded claims again, or are at least deterred from doing so.

In fact — it is ironic that in Zimbabwe — where the one candidate who claims that he must win elections because GOD IS IN IT, is the one who refuses to listen to the voice of God when he speaks through the people.


Advocate Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a legal practitioner.


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