The Herald (Harare)

19 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Politics of Primary Elections

analysis

As the country gears up for elections, the first battle is not just which political parties are going to contest the elections, but that their candidates for elections have to be chosen by the parties themselves.

This is the first stage in the preparations for the general elections. But the way primary elections have been held has been quite interesting. In some areas, pieces of paper are used as ballot papers and cast into cardboard boxes while counting of ballots is done on the floor.

Surely, parties can borrow ballot boxes from the Electoral Commission. Party members should learn to conduct their primary elections as in the same way as the general election is done. Political parties must lead by example.

But many countries have different ways of conducting their primary polls. In the United States, membership rolls are used from the lowest tier right up to the top posts. In South Africa the parties draw up the list of candidates since voting in a general election is not by constituency, but by proportional representation of the parties. The electorate actually votes for the party regardless of who makes up the lists.

At the moment, their ANC congress will be voting for the leadership of the party rather than choosing candidates for the general election. That will take place in 2014 when the country goes to elections for their parliamentary representatives.

Closer home, the debate is raging on what criteria will be used to choose, local and national candidates for the impending general elections slated for 2013.

Whatever the outcome of the Constitution-making process, elections shall be held sometime next year. If it is so important to hold primary elections by political parties, it means each party wants to be represented by a candidate that commends respect and integrity in the constituency and the party as a whole.

In UK, the constituency council chooses the candidate from many applicants. But here in Zimbabwe, the candidates battle it out at the cell and branch levels. One party is reported to allow its sitting MPs not to be challenged by new comers. This happens at the presidential level in the United States as well in some parties in Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, the sitting president was challenged by his deputy for the leadership not only of the party, but by extension, as leader of the country, come elections in 2014. This is a very damaging exercise to challenge a sitting president.

It is like not having confidence in how the country is run by your own party. It is better to have primary elections for candidates if the present incumbent's term of office is coming to an end and is barred from standing again.

Be as it may, the protocols for primary elections have to be clear and accepted by the general membership.

The card carrying member should also be allowed to cast a ballot in a primary election. The choice of a candidate must be universally accepted by the general membership. The policy of restricting voters for primary elections to certain representatives of branches is not fair. Every member of the party must be allowed to vote for their preferred candidate.

This will motivate the membership to vote in the general elections. They will enjoy the power bestowed on them by the party that their preferred candidate will stand in the general election.

Being a card-carrying member, it is very important and cadres will be happy to contribute financially to the party's coffers if allowed to exercise their right in choosing a candidate of their choice.

The imposition of candidates by the party in any constituency is bad politics. Of course, a party has to abide by its principles in endorsing the choice of candidates to stand for primaries rather than to disqualify the choice of the voters at a later stage.

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