Recalls: A weaponised tool against democratic practices

The current situation has left us at the mercy of the political parties and the electorate playing a secondary role in endorsing the replacements of the incumbents.

RECALLS are a global phenomenon. The system is used in the neighbouring country, where political parties can recall members and replace them by giving a notice to parliament.

This is usually done to align the political parties' aspirations, for example, a ruling party may replace parliamentarians to give space for the appointment of cabinet ministers.

In the United States of America (USA), recalls can happen for local legislators but it seems very difficult to affect those.

At the Congress and Senate levels, vacancy can be forced by the death or resignation of a member.

The United Kingdom on the other hand has made recalls only possible when a member has been in serious financial and illicit deals and they face a prison sentence.

This also makes the standard to be very high for recalls to happen.  Kenya, another regional hub, has for the longest time had Parliamentarians and senators changing allegiances once they have been elected in power and also keeping the seats that they hold.

This floor change has allowed for some stability and reduced the need for ever-unending by-elections.

The commentary going around the recalls would have anyone believe that this a new phenomenon and recalls have only been instituted by those that have no mass appeals and so wield their administrative power over elected officials. 

History will show us that this is not true and that this is a tool that has been weaponised over the years, and it is only that the number of recalls and their ruthlessness have been growing over the years.

One of the first casualties of the recalls was the Socialist Munyaradzi Gwisai, who was expelled from the  Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 2002, and subsequently lost the by-elections.

He accused the party of not standing for the rights of the workers and not fighting hard enough for the stolen vote.

Jonathan Moyo has had his political career disturbed by recalls. In 2017, with a host of other legislators were recalled from parliament, as they were expelled from the party for causing chaos and what the ruling party’s central committee termed the destruction of former president Robert Mugabe’s legacy.

A repeat offender, Moyo was also fired from the party in 2009 for failing to toe the party line and ran as an independent in the elections.

Temba Mliswa was also another casualty of the recalls within the ruling party and made his comeback in another constituency as an independent candidate.

The list of prominent Zanu PF people that have been recalled is quite extensive, reaching the highest echelons like Didymus Mutasa.

In 2015, the MDC recalled 21 Members of Parliament (MPs), who had ceased to be members of the opposition party and had moved to form the MDC Renewal.

Thokozani Khupe was recalled from Parliament in 2018 by the Nelson Chamisa leadership and was again recalled from Parliament in 2022 by the Douglas Mwonzora leadership. 

It is, therefore, clear that the latest recalls are nothing new in the political terrain but have been used by all and sundry in the political landscape in the country.

Every major political outfit has used this as a political tool and governance tool in their parties.

The question that lingers and that should be the biggest concern is if the recall clause is in line with the democratic principles that all the political parties claim to behold.

The first important thing to note is that to some extent it is important for the recall clause to still be retained in one form or the other.

The idea is that when one is elected on a party ticket, they have been sponsored by a collective.

The collective as a whole has a shared vision, manifesto, and policies that are agreed on.  These are the policies that the collective uses to woe the voters.

It then follows that there is a social contract of some sort, in that the people elected one to the office on the promise of the collective.

The ones that deviate would in a way deviate from this and if they are to remain in position, then they might not be representative of the wishes of the electors.

However, it should be noted that the most important thing is the voice of the electorate in the recalls. 

The current situation has left us at the mercy of the political parties and the electorate playing a secondary role in endorsing the replacements of the incumbents.

The bar is low for recalls to happen and in the end, what has happened, one can argue that the recalls have not served the people, rather they have served the political players. The voices of the people, their concerns, and their wishes are drowned after elections.

The counter-argument that some people may make is that elections are a way that people participate, but there is need for a greater participation in the processes and democratic institutions.

The argument is thwarted by the fact that for very important legislations, public hearings and public consultations are done before they are enacted into law.

The same mechanism should be used to determine whether elected officials must be recalled.

Furthermore, it might be prudent for the parties to provide a detailed charge sheet on the people that they are recalling.

 The reasons must be substantive like a differing ideology or a criminal offense committed during a member's term.

Stringent conditions must be set out to ensure that frivolous recalls are not implemented.

There must be a way to ensure that the voters have more say in this issue more than the political parties.

The fact that the majority of the voters are not members of the political parties should be the virtue signal that is needed to take away this power.

One can conclude and say that the redefining of the parameters needed for recalls will benefit both the electorate and the political players. It will give credibility to the election process as the people will be sure that the people that they elect will serve them more than their parties.

 It will give voice to elected officials to stand on contentious issues even when their political parties do not agree.

Job security and tenure will give the politicians more room for richer debates, and policies and will enrich the political discourse, which is very party-oriented, and lacks individuality and pluralism.

  • Mapfumo is a research associate at the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi. X: spearmunya.


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