Democracies across the world are facing a common dilemma: How do they get rid of discredited leaders or Prime Ministers and Presidents accused of wrongdoings?
Raising one’s voice in protest against an unacceptable situation is good for democracy. Then why do political leaders get into tantrums or contrive all sorts of lame gimmicks to survive when their leadership is democratically questioned in the wake of repeated defeats at the polls and serious errors of judgement? Why do they get all worked up at the slightest sign of legitimate revolt from party ranks?
Since 2005, the MMM has registered a long list of seven consecutive defeats at the polls under the present leadership. Every alliance and carefully planned strategy during that period seems to have lamentably backfired. It is not rocket science to infer that its specious brand of politics, shifting stances and alliances cobbled with the pendulum of political expediency have not particularly enthused the multitude. The party has also been significantly weakened by dissent and exits. As a consequence, its leader is no longer the leader of the opposition since last year. The present masquerade taking place within the MMM does not fool anyone. It traps the party in a hara-kiric path of self destruction. The opposition must be rubbing their hands in glee.
Why do so many political leaders roundly rejected by the people remain rooted to their posts? Delusions of some dynastic or divine right to remain leader after suffering scathing defeat by the vote of the people at the polls are the hallmark of banana republics – not vibrant democracies where defeated leaders promptly step down and the people and only the people call the shots.
The real mantle of leadership is given by the people through victory at the polls, not by the subservience of die-hard party apparatchiks. Holding on to power despite being repeatedly rejected by the people can only lead to ignominy. Political leaders including ‘historic’ ones must in the wake of repeated setbacks at the polls and contestation within party ranks have the grace to step down in a timely manner. Not to do so is to court humiliation and disgrace and to plumb the future prospects of the party.
The Labour Party is no better. Its leader is still holding on to his post despite being rounding defeated at the December 2014 general elections. His decisions and choices showed grave lapses of judgement which demand credible answers. Those who value the ethos, seminal ideals and commitment of the Labour Party as from 1937 to the cause of the multitude must do what it takes to rebuild a viable future for the party under a caucus of a young, innovative and talented new team having the collective intellect to chalk out an inclusive and bright future for all.
Zeroing on Zuma
The evidence is compelling. Political parties feudalized and kowtowing to omnipotent leaders are major impediments to democracy. The bottom line is that such a warped situation is unacceptable to the multitude as it is tantamount to ‘party capture’ by rejected leaders whom the people no longer want. No one can usurp the people’s paramount right to choose through their votes the leader and party they trust and entrust to run the country.
In our region, both the ruling ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa have after years of procrastination finally realized that the party cannot continue to shield discredited and corrupt leaders from public outcry and censure. In November 2017, the 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe stripped of military, party and popular support and slapped with an impeachment motion was forced to resign causing exuberant joy and hope for a far better future among Zimbabweans. This finally put an end to Mugabe’s 37 year iron rule over Zimbabwe. He was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice-president.
Similarly, the ANC which has been in power for 23 years in South Africa has after the tenure of Nelson Mandela from 1994-99 been rocked by scandals, corruption and declining support among the people. The Party is deeply divided among those who still want to uphold the ideals and values of the ANC and its iconic leaders who spearheaded the freedom movement against the decried apartheid regime and the apparatchiks who support the controversial 75-year-old President Jacob Zuma despite the accusation of state capture and 783 charges of corruption levelled against him.
Thanks to unstinted party support, Jacob Zuma has been able to survive eight motions of no confidence, despite scandals, corruption and numerous wrongdoings being the hallmark of his nine-year tenure as President. He has got rid of several of the country’s most competent ministers, badly managed the economy leaving it in shambles with inter alia an unemployment rate which stands at 28%.
In December 2017, the ANC finally fed up with the scandals and patent corruption under Jacob Zuma elected Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, the Deputy President of South Africa since 2014 to replace Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC for the next five years. In a highly contested election, Cyril Ramaphosa won with 2,440 votes to 2,261 for his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, which showcases the profound divide within the ANC. He promised a new leadership and direction and pledged to tackle the corruption that had plagued Jacob Zuma’s nine years in office.
Negotiations have therefore been initiated between the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) led by Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma to remove the latter as President. The manner Ramaphosa handles the negotiations will be a test of his leadership. Zuma has resisted pressure to resign since December. Immunity from prosecution is not an option as this is not allowed under the South African constitution. It was surmised that Jacob Zuma was trying to obtain a satisfactory settlement agreement. He is seen as cleverly exploiting differences between the two camps within the ANC to prolong the deadlock. However, the Rand has strengthened at the prospect of a Zuma exit.
Some 13 hours of powwowing between the parties on Monday this week failed to break the deadlock. It transpires that the embattled Jacob Zuma rejected a direct order from the ruling ANC party to leave office. The ANC has therefore decided to ‘recall’ or formally ask Jacob Zuma to resign as President within the next few days. Should he not resign, the parliamentary caucus will be called upon to support a motion of no-confidence and if need be an impeachment process against him. . In a welcome denouement, Jacob Zuma giving in to pressure from the ANC and the mounting clamour from the people finally resigned on Wednesday 14 February, thus ending the most decried tenure of office by a President since the end of apartheid in South Africa in1994.
Getting rid of discredited leaders
Democracies across the world are facing a common dilemma: How do they get rid of discredited leaders or Prime Ministers and Presidents accused of corruption and serious wrongdoings when they have the unconditional support of the party and its apparatchiks? It required a military takeover and pressure from the ZANU-PF party and its support of new party leader in the person of Emmerson Mnangagwa to end Mugabe’s 37 year rule over Zimbabwe. Similarly, it is the support of a majority of members of the ANC for a new leader Cyril Ramaphosa which has ushered the process of Zuma’s exit and replacement.
In France, the backlash of the people against traditional political parties and their discredited leaders has been such that ‘La République en marche’, the party founded by Emmanuel Macron on 6 April 2016, has in little more than a year become the dominant player in last year’s Presidential and legislative elections. In essence, if you can’t beat the system, bypass it.
Are the foundations of our democracy worse than in Zimbabwe or South Africa? Why can’t the Labour Party or the MMM and other political parties ruled by omnipotent leaders jettison their discredited leaders for the good of the people and the country… and the party as well?
No party or leader let alone a disavowed and contested one can be more important than the people and the country. The onus is therefore squarely on the party faithful and the people at large to trigger the necessary big bang for a new political ethos, ideals and values which rally the people around a new, talented and inspiring leadership for the common good.
* Published in print edition on 16 February 2018