HomeLocal NewsNot just elections, but proper polls

Not just elections, but proper polls

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ADDRESSING the media at the end of May on the state of the economy, Finance minister Tendai Biti is reported to have called for proclamation of election dates because continued uncertainty over the holding of polls was negatively affecting economic performance.

Report by Omen Muza

Most businesses, he lamented, had sunken into a wait-and-see stupor due to uncertainty over poll dates.

“The biggest factor of all is the hanging factor that is being brought in by the election. Businesses are just hanging in there unsure of what to do given the uncertainty pertaining to the lack of clarity on the exact date of the election . . . “I think the sooner there is clarity on the dates, there is clarity on the processes, there is clarity on the funding, I think we should see the return of greater business confidence,” Biti said.

Elections should not be something to fear, but a process to be embraced as a means for all eligible Zimbabweans to express their will on who should govern them for the next five years.

Recent calls for elections by the business community are, therefore, acts of courage.

In any functional democracy, business is expected to stake its claim on the power dynamics and seek to directly or indirectly design the endgame; otherwise the endgame will be designed in ways which business won’t want.

Left to their own devices, political players will gladly run away with the reform or developmental agenda, or indeed any other agenda.

However, I believe that the call for elections should go beyond just a mechanical call regardless of the consequences — because that may have the undesirable outcome of yielding any election instead of the election we want.

Fundamentally, methinks it should be about calling for the creation of conditions that make free and fair elections a natural progression of the reform process rather than an ill-conceived, contrived appendage stuck at the end of inadequate preparations.

The absence of such conditions is the fuel that stokes the fire of country risk, something business knows only too well and regularly encounters in the form of limited lines of credit and the high risk premium which makes credit expensive when available.

Instead of simply calling for an election to be held within the shortest possible time, why not actually call for the type of election business wants and propose dates that business considers feasible from a business perspective?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Elections have become such a formidable psychological barrier for Zimbabwean businesses that months before they finally happen, businesspeople curl up into some kind of foetal position and “wait” for elections to “come and go”.

They default to this speculative fever which, instead of informing anyone, actually paralyses everyone — some sort of paralysis of analysis. This is strange.

Businesses have their long-term strategies, but when faced with elections, they abandon them and defer to the whims of a political process which by its very nature is entirely uncertain!

Elections should not be viewed as some sort of magic wand which will change things overnight.

Instead, what will happen to companies after elections is a result of what we are doing – or not doing – right now. We need to unlearn this mutually destructive, speculative and self-fulfilling behaviour because it is our role as Zimbabweans to lead the way in unfreezing ourselves from the fear of elections so that foreign investors can take a cue from us. As things currently stand, who can blame them for shying away?

Of course, elections must — and will not – be approached with a casual, business-as-usual approach, but they shouldn’t become so disruptive a force that they throw business into disarray every time!

The fact that Zimbabweans are afraid of elections, as recently confirmed by no less an authority than Zimbabwe Electoral Commission deputy chairman Joyce Kazembe, is indeed regrettable, if not entirely sad.

“There is fear out there. People are fearful of elections. That fear is real. There is also fear of the unknown. It will take time to remove this fear,” she reportedly told a meeting of church leaders in Bulawayo. If we are going to be this fearful of our own elections, what do we expect foreigners to be? Petrified, of course.

While the call by business is an act of courage, the nature of the call itself must be examined further. Is business viewing elections as a means to an end or an end in itself?

I ask because some have certainly sounded as if elections are a mere political formality, some sort of temporary inconvenience which we must endure and quickly get over with so that we can get on with “life”.

Let’s get one thing straight — elections are an absolute necessity. They are a fundamental process of change management, not be held for the sake of holding them, but for the sake of shaping the country’s political environment which in turn shapes the business environment.

So whatever we do, let’s remember that calling is easy.

Anyone can call for elections, but it takes real courage to call for the right kind of elections — those that yield not only victors, but also recognise the interests and dignity of losers.

We need elections that go beyond the rhetoric of settling political contests to the reality of creating conditions under which Zimbabweans — individuals, companies and communities — can prosper.

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