The 4D effect of farce primary elections


The primary elections season is upon us. A time to choose between your children.

By Phillan Zamchiya

Difficult, but a more compelling case to practice internal party democracy (IPD).

I refer to IPD as the extent to which there is an inclusive participatory process by members of the party in decision making processes and a representative outcome.
The failure to uphold IPD during candidate selection can result in party disunity expressed through what I call 4 Ds.

First is de-alignment

This is a situation whereby party members unfairly treated during primary elections will choose to participate as independent candidates at ward and constituency levels.
Remember, the Zimbabwe Independent Alliance (ZIA) in 2013.

Second is deviation

Ill-treated members will not leave the party.

They will stay in the party, chant slogans, attend rallies, wear party regalia and dance with swagger.

If it is in MDC-T, they will shout the loudest “Chamisa chete chete” in daylight.

However, far from the crowd, they run a whisper campaign against the party and on polling day they deliberately vote for another party as a way to express disgruntlement.
In sophisticated cases, they can campaign for party president, party councillors, but for the legislator, [if it is the bone of contention] they deviate, just as bhora musango.

Third is defection

Here unhappy party members can defect en masse to other political parties.

Fourth is de-legitimisation

A situation where the disgruntled will expose the party’s undemocratic practices.

A combination of these 4Ds will negatively affect electoral performance.

Contrary to my propositions, others like Duverger and Sartori have argued that IPD threatens practical efficiency and can weaken the party’s capacity to compete for political power.

Drawing from May’s “law of curvelinearity” they posit that party members do not represent the needs of ordinary voters because they tend to be more ideologically extreme than both party elites and general voters.

However, there is no systemic empirical evidence to suggest that party members are more ideologically extreme or that the oligarchic judgment of party leaders will help the party win an election.

My scientific observation on party activists in Zimbabwe has concluded that grassroots activists are generally closer to the ordinary voter than elites from party headquarters.

I challenge for more studies.

I am not arguing for a utopian model of IPD.

There are practical constraints such as political manoeuvring of parties as they seek electoral alliances, youth and gender considerations.

My point is when faced with such constraints, the leadership should not unilaterally make decisions as a default position.

As Teorell has argued, the idea is to establish deliberative procedures for the exchange of arguments between party leaders and party members.

When the views of the party elites diverge from those of the activists or the party’s voters for that matter-they have a special responsibility to give reasons for their dissenting verdict.

The legitimate basis for such claims would be the force of the argument and not size of the stick.

I, therefore, do not ignore practical realities necessary to regulate the participation of party members in decision-making, but ask for deliberative and compelling platforms.

For example, Childs argues that, “if left alone, party selection processes are unlikely to produce parity of descriptive representation for women and men”.

There is indeed enough empirical evidence to suggest that party structures are unrepresentative of their party’s voters in demographic terms.
Political parties are not only dominated by men, but the society at large is patriarchal.

Here, there is need to move from the traditional conceptualisation of IPD and argue that representations of women and youth, previously excluded from democratic institutions, constitute indicators of IPD.

Nevertheless, we do not want a situation where political practical considerations are used as an excuse to hide behind what really explains party transgressions in Zimbabwe’s political parties today.

If we are to follow the iron law of oligarchy, subversion of IPD is largely accounted for by the rise of a small group of politicians at a local and national level usually aided by the bureaucracy.

This group makes decisions to protect and consolidate their power and personal interests rather than of the members they represent and the broader party goals.
The oligarchs believe they know more than members and that they are infallible.

This is a cancer in Zimbabwe’s party politics.

A dangerous conception that affects electoral performance.

All ills that undermine IDP and lead to the 4Ds must be fumigated.

Basics are important.

Providing the electoral college to all candidates, banning vote buying, an impartial, competent and accountable personnel running the primary elections, transparency in the number of ballot papers printed and distributed, no transportation of ballot papers before counting, all voting stations placed in neutral places, no imposition by hook or crook by the oligarchy to mention some and hands off state institutions.

In summary, IPD helps to construct public deliberations on democracy, profiles the party’s electoral image as one committed to more democratic principles, affords an opportunity to choose popular candidates, lessens intra-party conflict and improves the party’s chances of winning an election.

This is even more important for the opposition parties which face external constraints like an evil trend of State-financialisation of our politics and other electoral malpractices.

Therefore, there is a compelling need to minimise internally generated conflict which will lead to deviation, de-legitimisation, de-alignment and defections with devastating electoral consequences.

Phillan Zamchiya writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on


  1. You nailed it Phillan – the oligarchs seem to have taken over all the top political parties in Zimbabwe, a very dangerous cancer indeed, especially where public money funds the political parties!

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