AS the August 2023 harmonised elections are by the corner, every Zimbabwean who is eligible to vote should seriously consider creating time to vote, because voting adds one’s voice to the governance of one’s country.
Governance, by definition is about decision-making, service delivery and accountability by those entrusted with political power. The voters entrust politicians with political power and they do so through representative democracy.
Representative democracy is identified through electoral cycles that are constitutionalised in different jurisdictions. Electoral cycles are a vital cog in the renewal of social contracts. It is the purpose of this opinion piece to adumbrate why political participation should be a sine qua non (necessary or indispensable requirement) for every citizen.
A vote not cast is by and large a future lost in many ways. Those who vote determine the course of their country in terms of governance, they also provide checks and balances to those elected into public office. A servant or master government is a function of a political culture that obtains in a country, and a political culture colours political participation.
Citizens who participate in the public affairs of their countries are indeed conscious of their full citizenship rights. A country’s citizens are equal in terms of their citizenship rights, and no one has the power to occlude other citizens from being active in politics. Full citizenship rights include inter alia:
- The right to vote;
- The right to get elected; and
- The right to participate in decision-making processes.
When citizens get involved in voting they vicariously influence policy and legislation.
The cliches which are often floated in discourses on political participation like “voting changes nothing,” “voting is a sheer waste of time,” “politics is dirty,” “politics is not for women,” and “politics is not for me,” are epistemologies which need to be disrupted through a shift in our reasoning because politics is for everyone.
The truth is one cannot run away from politics, because politics will still find you one way or the other. By definition, politics is about production and distribution of resources.
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The moment we delve into distribution of resources we begin to think about who gets what, when, where and how? These issues of resource distribution are concerns which lend themselves to the corridors of power.
The corridors of power in a democracy are occupied by politicians who come from different constituencies, and these politicians determine policy and legislation on behalf of their constituents and may also influence the deployment of human capital to key institutions like the Judiciary, commissions, Executive, civil service and many others.
Political participation should be espoused by every citizen because it is the starting point of any democratic system and is also invaluable in determining the nature of politics and the kind of society in which we live.
For example, non-participation of certain social groups like persons with disabilities in elections because of economic, social, cultural, physical or technological barriers may lead to certain issues, concerns and needs central to their lives remaining at margins of politics and policy-making.
In the whole electoral process, independent institutions like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Zimbabwe Media Commission, should be involved in helping citizens understand the effectuality of political participation.
For example, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission should stand out, especially in raising the political consciousness of women and girls in claiming political space in the governance of a country because women and girls are the biggest negative beneficiaries of political violence. When women’s political consciousness is raised, they can be assertive and claim their space in matters that border on politics and governance.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission should go a stage further to work in and through schools to raise boys’ and girls’ awareness about the need to relate with one another as co-nationals.
Co-nationality comes with the engagement of citizens through positive reciprocity.
For example, right from the level of early childhood development, children should know that no politician is worth dying for and killing anyone for and that no-one is more Zimbabwean than the other and that we are all Zimbabweans whose strength emanates from complementing and augmenting one another through diversity.
One of the most critical ways citizens can influence governmental decisions is through voting.
However, voting cannot take place in the absence of active political participation. Political participation is as necessary to voting as water is to fish.
Political participation has a direct bearing on the quality of governance.
By way of an explanation, political participation involves, among other things, taking part in public affairs, assembling and forming associations to register during elections and also declaring candidacy during national and local elections.
To that effect, the media should report objectively on political parties’ mission statements, value systems, policies and other issues so that citizens can make sound decisions when they vote.
The media should be like a bathroom scale that reports political parties’ activities as is, and should also educate citizens on assessing political parties’ campaigning messages.
As it is, some political parties have neither form nor substance, political parties’ messages should rather be issue-driven and anchored on principles and values, and not on glorifying and solidifying personalities.
The media and other institutions are, therefore, critical voices and accelerators of expansion of knowledge zones in the domain of political participation by citizens.
In conclusion the right to political participation is both fundamental to democracy and a fundamental human right. The liberation war was essentially about the right to political participation.
Every eligible voter in Zimbabwe should stand out like a diamond in a coal-field on the day of voting by voting for a candidate or political party of his or her own choice without coercion from anywhere.
Non-participation in this important political process will be literally allowing others to decide your fate.