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Constitution must bar floor- crossing

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Isabel Allende a re-nowned Chilean-American writer once said that “all stories interest me, and some haunt me until I end up writing them. Certain themes keep coming up: justice, loyalty, violence, death, political and social issues, freedom”.

In the same way I believe defections and floor-crossings are a threat to political parties’ stability in our democracy.

I have observed an increase in that trend in the last few years in Zimbabwe.

I believe Zimbabwe does not need party defections and/or floor-crossing.

What Zimbabweans need are serious politicians who genuinely represent them and the institutions that they support, not politicians searching for opportunities that serve them well by forsaking the interest of the electorate.

I believe that as the nation coins a new constitution, there is need to debate the issue of defections or floor-crossing. The nation is watching these developments with keen interest, and this will inform their submission as the constitutional writing process continues.

I believe the time is ripe to coin an anti-defection law to bring sanity and honesty to the political landscape.
In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state or political party in exchange for allegiance to another.

More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie; as of allegiance or duty.

Crossing the floor has two meanings referring to a change of allegiance in a Westminster system parliament.

If an MP were to switch parties, they would also need to cross the floor; for instance Winston Churchill crossed the floor from the Conservatives to become a Liberal MP, before crossing back again.

This is not a new phenomenon in a democracy. Brazil suffered this scourge in 1946 and this led to the anti- defection law in the 1980’s as that country fought to outlaw the betrayal of the electorate.

In neighbouring South Africa floor-crossing was a controversial system under which MPs, members of provincial legislatures and local government councillors could change political party (or form a new party) and take their seats with them when they did so. Floor- crossing in South Africa was abolished in January 2009.

Some parties have lost MPs and seats as a result of floor- crossing. The United Democratic Movement rejected floor-crossing legislation from the outset as an attack on the electoral system and indeed on constitutional democracy, while the Inkatha Freedom Party rejected floor-crossing believing that it disenfranchised voters by allowing politicians to “reallocate” seats as they see fit.

The Democratic Alliance initially supported the legislation but has since changed its stance.

In Zimbabwe this act was outlawed the legislature when Edgar Tekere formed ZUM. However this was not outlawed in councils as we have witnessed few cases where MDC-M has been adversely affected.

People vote on the basis of the party’s policy and very rarely for the individual only. It therefore means that those crossing the floor will be betraying those that voted them into public offices.

It is quite surprising that those councilors elected on an MDC-M ticket in the election where they defeated the MDC-T candidates later wanted the electorate to believe that they were defecting to defend the interests of the electorate.

I believe that defections create a negative image of both parties leading the public to believe that politicians are accountable only to government.
This scenario also distorts the meaning of political representation in a democracy.

On the one hand politicians are seen to be forsaking the people that elected them, while on the other it also distorts the distribution of party power as it modifies election results.

There are a number of issues that may cause defections, for example in Brazil before the introduction of the anti-defection law it was observed the trend was that politicians moved to a party that could provide access to donor funding.

Floor-crossing was for politicians to meet their selfish demands.

For this reason floor-crossing by politicians meant that they were moving to a party that condoned corruption and therefore without the interest of the masses but the desire to control power on behalf of a handler who is prepared to pay to gain political control of state institutions.

The second reason that may influence defections is the promise for a higher office in the future election, and that in many cases has coerced immature politicians to cross the floor.

This means political parties concerned may not have a solid grassroots support hence fishing around desperate immature politicians aspiring for higher office.

Finally, defections breed distrust in political parties and distort relations between voters and politicians. Parties may be weakened due to floor- crossing. In the process the electorate is weakened too.

Gifford Mehluli Sibanda can be contacted on 091 3 267 456 or e-mail: gifford.sibanda@gmail.com

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