Criminality perpetrated by Political Parties: A disturbing trend in our politics

ON Monday last week, the Registrar of Political Parties gave 14-days legal notice to ACT Wazalendo, requiring that Opposition Political Party “to explain why it should not be struck off the register of political parties” for having committed certain specified criminal offences, including that of allowing its followers to burn another political party’s flag.

Such criminal acts, being perpetrated by members of a respectable political party are, to say the least, wholly disturbing and worrisome. Political parties and their designated purposes Whither our political parties?

That is the big question. In my article of last week in this column, I encouraged political analysts to pay particular attention to the emerging ‘unusual’ political situation, which was created by Seif Shariff Hamad’s action of ‘nomadic politics”, and urged them to take a new look at the direction in which our political parties appear to be moving which, seemingly, is manifestly away from the designated purposes of political parties; which is, basically, “to acquire state power through participating in, and winning, a general election; in an open process whereby political parties are free to compete by presenting their different policies and programmes to the electorate.

Each party trying to persuade the voters, through organised campaign meetings, to vote for their particular policies and programme options.”

And for a start in the direction of that discussion, in order to set the ball rolling, I further opined that: “in my humble opinion, there is a strong cultural impediment which prevents our political parties from abiding by the ‘rules of the game’ i.e. those that govern political parties’ behavior.”

This cultural impediment is “the lack of the requisite multi-party political culture” which is what accounts for the negative behavioral ‘diversions’ of some of our political party leaders that we are witnessing from time to time, such as the exercise of ‘nomadic’ and/or ‘tourism’ politics; plus the criminality that appears to be creeping in.

I also pointed out that the theory and practice of ‘party politics’ is not, in fact, part of our traditional governance cultures, which were based on monarchical rule by traditional Chiefs, with no participation whatsoever by political parties.

In today’s article, I wish to underscore and elaborate that point regarding the lack of the requisite multi-party political culture, and therefore the urgent for us need to cultivate that culture.

I do fervently hope, that this discussion will be taken up in earnest by our professional political analysts. I believe it is good for the political education of our younger generation of politicians.

On my part, it has indeed been my firm contention, which I first expressed in my book titled “Reflections on the First Decade of Multi-party Politics in Tanzania” (Nyambari Nyangwine Publishers, Da es Salaam); that the “lack of a multi-party culture” in our societies, is what is at the core of the problems we are witnessing, relating to the operation of the multi-party system, simply because it is an ‘imposed’ political culture, which is not deeply ingrained in our own traditional cultures.

That is what partly explains why, when TANU was created as a political party way back in 1954, it quickly became a nationalist movement, to which almost all the people belonged. Thus, right from the beginning, making the country a de facto ‘One- Party state’; even before it became a de jure One-Party state in 1965.

There was therefore no opportunity for the people to get a proper exposure to the culture of multi-party politics, since the country continued to operate under the One-party system for 30 long years.

The multi-party political culture I stated in my book referred to above, that “multiparty democracy is, essentially, a product of a culture which is deeply rooted in the Western countries of Europe and North America”; and said further that in many of the countries where this Western-based culture does not exist.

There have, in every case, been problems in operating the multi-party political system in compliance with the specified ‘rules of the game’; and cited the following examples to provide credible evidence in support of that contention.

(These were published in different issues of a journal cited as “The PARLIAMENTARIAN” which is published by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association):- Commenting in October 2000 on the Caribbean democracy situation, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Hon Keith Mitchell (MP), lamented as follows: “The Caribbean people have long had a reputation for passionate partisan debate in the adversarial form of Parliamentary democracy inherited from Westminster.

But they also enjoyed the reputation of playing by the rules: the winners of the arguments took office, and the losers continued the debate from the Opposition Benches inside Parliament, and prepared for the next election. But today, passionate political debates are being continued in an alarming number of cases, not in Parliament, but in the streets.

And they are being pressed not by debate, but by demonstration. Our acceptance of the Parliamentary system is being seriously eroded.”

In our own case, we have seen how the Opposition parties have often resorted to demonstrations and demands for public rallies in order to press their ‘arguments’; instead of continuing the partisan debates from the Opposition benches inside Parliament; according to the established ‘rules of the game’.

There are several other examples in different parts of the Commonwealth, which help to illustrate the existence of what I have described as the ‘lack of the requisite multi-party political culture’; such as the following:- The report in respect of Papua and New Guinea states thus: “Party politics in Papua New Guinea have generally been based on personalities, rather than policies.

In this “big man” style of politics, votes are more likely to be won by family or clan affiliations, than through well-developed party policies.”

And the report on Haiti states as follows: “Party politics and party discipline are practically unknown in Haiti. Political parties in that country are often small bands of people, led by egomaniacs, and held together by patronage. While inside Parliament, party affiliation does not always guarantee agreement.

The Government cannot get its programmes through Parliament, simply because the House often fails to reach a quorum, and acts capriciously when it does, even though the majority of seats are held by the ruling party.”

There is also the report on Lesotho, which states as follows: “Ever since the independence of Lesotho, political activity in the country has been partisan in form, and exclusionary in character. Society has been Balkanized into new groupings, which call themselves political parties, dedicated to vying for, and excluding one another from, control of State power. Political parties in Lesotho are the antithesis of nation building.

This is the origin of the mutual disdain and repugnance that members of different political parties feel for each other, and this attitude has produced a basis for political instability that has become a permanent feature of politics in the country.”

Another reported example is that of Kenya, where it is reported as follows: “The re-introduction of political pluralism was one of the greatest developments in Kenya since independence.

But it now appears that political parties have turned into a liability, not only stifling democracy, but also impeding the transformation of Kenya into a modern society. Virtually all political parties have sacrificed healthy political competition and internal democracy at the altar of individual aggrandizement.”

Emphasizing individual players, instead of party policies A careful analysis of these statements reveals the true nature of the problem under discussion, which is ‘the diversionary tendency to rely on individual actors, instead of putting due emphasis on party policies and programmes.’

This actually is what meant by statements like “politics in Papua and New Guinea have been based on personalities rather than well-developed party policies” (big man politics); OR (in Lesotho) “the disdain and repugnance that members of the different political parties feel for each other.”

OR (in Haiti) “Political parties in that country are often small bands of people led by egomaniacs, and held together by patronage.” OR (in Kenya), “virtually all political parties have sacrificed healthy political competition and democracy at the altar of personal aggrandizement.”

The by-products of politics based on personalities This undesirable diversion to ‘personalities’ instead of ‘policies’ within political parties, has given rise to two other problems. These are: (i) the lack of democracy within the political parties themselves, and (ii): the emergence of the ‘Savimbi theory of elections.’

The lack of internal democracy within the political parties themselves can also fairly be attributed to the factor of ‘big man politics.’ In our own case, as a result of experience gained from the first two multi-party general elections of 1995 and 2000; the National Electoral Commission submitted the following recommendation to the Union Government: “Most of the problems regarding the nomination of candidates, are due to the lack of democracy within the political parties.

Therefore, the Commission recommends that the Political Parties Act, 1992, be amended, to ensure the existence of democracy within the political parties.”

The ‘Savimbi theory of elections’ is attributed to one Jonas Savimbi of Angola who, after losing in his country’s Presidential election (which had been carefully prepared and managed under the close supervision of the international community), refused to recognize the results of that election, claiming that he had been cheated, and immediately declared that he was ‘going back to the bush’ to fight a guerilla war against the democratically elected President who had defeated him.

That is when some innovative political scientists called the said declaration, “the Savimbi theory of elections”, which they described as follows: “If you participate in an election, you MUST win. If you don’t win, you have been cheated. So, you must refuse to accept the results thereof, and start fighting the winning party”.

This, of course, is the surest way of creating chaos, or even violence, since the winning party will most likely respond by using state power to fight back, with serious negative consequences leading to breaches of the peace, and unnecessary harm to innocent citizens. Many of our readers will easily remember, that these by-products have also affected our own political system, whereby the losers in Presidential elections refused to accept the results, loudly claiming that they ‘had been cheated’.

The issue of criminality But the issue of the emerging criminality in the conduct of political activities is an absolute negation of ‘civilized’ politics, and has been rightly condemned by the majority in our community.

The threat by the Registrar of Political Parties to deregister ACT Wazalendo, appears to be part of this general condemnation.

piomsekwa@gmail.com 0754767576.

Author: Pius Msekwa

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