Discard party primary elections


The fissures and acrimony concomitant with party primary elections in Zimbabwe now blight on the landscape of the otherwise progressive democratic movement, especially as manifested in the euphemistically termed “people’s party of excellence”.

This compounds the long-held perception that fundamentally, there is ideological symmetry in the rogue behaviour of MDC-T and Zanu PF youths.

Moreover, the late Gibson Sibanda must be turning in his grave in disgust at Morgan Tsvangirai for denying that Harvest House is a haven of intolerance and petulance.

The question being: Given unfettered full mandate to govern Zimbabwe, will Tsvangirai and his charges cope with the demands of legitimate political opposition?

For reasons known to them, both MDCs are bent on perpetuating intra-party primary elections that leave their institutions disjointed, fractured and weak.

Early this year we witnessed the long-standing friendship of Joubert Mudzumwe and Professor Welshman Ncube being left in disarray due to disputed primary elections.

Mudzumwe roped in former party president Professor Arthur Mutambara into this vortex of acrimony to a point where the former brothers-in-resistance resorted to expensive litigation.

On the red side of the movement, Matson Hlalo and Gorden Moyo will never be friends again due to intra-party rivalry that has attracted the wrath of Augustine Chihuri’s over-eager police.

Amos Midzi and Hubert Nyanhongo of Zanu PF set the trend of primary election conflict in 2008 and it would not be a surprise if the two still hold their relationship with mutual contempt.

Time after time, with repetitive precision, Zimbabwean political parties use their congress build-ups as an opportunity to indulge in corrosive and divisive politicking.

My prognosis is that this is caused not only by disregard of basic principles of community leadership, but also greed and shameless, insatiable hunger for power.

Political parties must now consider other ways of selecting local party leaders, one that commands dignity, respect, promoting fair competition and party unity.

According to Wikipedia, a primary election is when party members or voters select candidates for a subsequent election.

Primary elections are one means by which a political party nominates candidates for the next general election.

Although Wikipedia suggests that other ways that parties may select candidates include caucuses, conventions, and nomination meetings, I have a nagging feeling that roping in citizens into political “structures” as a basis of nominations for higher office is a grave mistake.

Phil Keisling, a one-time Democrat Oregon Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999, was quoted in 2010 as saying: “Want to get serious about reducing the toxic levels of hyper-partisanship and legislative dysfunction now gripping American politics? Here’s a direct, simple fix: abolish party primary elections.”

I totally concur with his perspective on how primaries result in “abysmal voter turnout, incessant waves of shrill, partisan invective; and legions of pandering politicians making blatant appeals to party extremists”.

He continues: “The primary system gives disproportionate power to the shrillest and most mean-spirited of our partisans, while preventing civil dialogue and progress on a host of important issues.”

In the case of Zimbabwe, it results in intra-party violence, hatred, rumour-mongering and divisions.

In fact, people like Mudzumwe, Mutambara and Hlalo who lose in primaries walk away with a large chunk of voters from their respective parties. So tell me that primary elections strengthen parties and I will request you undergo a brain scan!

The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) makes reference to primary elections in Malawi in 2004 that: “. . . The main concern raised was that the process of candidate nomination was undemocratic and allowed party leaders and incumbents to impose candidates on party members. Indeed, court cases started emerging even before the elections took place, with some members taking their parties to court citing primary election irregularities.”

The result is a flurry of independent candidates and break away parties. Some of the bickering, says EISA, even continues into parliament.

My point is that there are more capable leaders in the community outside traditional party structures who ordinarily would epitomise sobriety, dignity, respect and fair play.

So what is the perfect solution to this cycle of intra-party despair? In any ward, political parties encounter “members”,“supporters”, “sympathisers”, “fence sitters” and so-called “democratically elected leaders”.

If all these get together in a usual community “development” meeting, they are capable, amongst themselves, of choosing people who are “natural” leaders who are respected, inspirational, humble and have a generally proven record of community activism.

A community leader cannot be anointed by a rigid, partisan political structure. She/he is one who has a proven record of being resourceful, creative, and communicative and, above all, a good listener.

If both MDCs were to send 6 000 such people to a “congress”, there would be no intra-party conflict.
Democracy, good governance and freedom are a universal integral extension of modern-day civilisation.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a social commentator who writes in his personal capacity