Opinion

Zuma survives because voter power has been usurped

13 August 2017 - 00:00 By barney mthombothi

It is understandable that opposition parties and, arguably, the majority of the public would want to put a positive spin to President Jacob Zuma's great escape this week. It helps to keep the troops energised and battle-ready for the confrontations ahead.
No wonder DA leader Mmusi Maimane wants the immediate dissolution of parliament so that early elections can be held.
He knows his motion has no hope of succeeding. But he's not one to let a crisis go to waste. It keeps the juices flowing and is also an effective recruiting tactic. The national elections of 2019 are the main prize.
People are being overly optimistic about the next elections, just as they were about the no-confidence debate this week.Opposition parties are trying to put a positive gloss on the setback. The outcome, we're told, has exposed the divisions within the ANC. What a revelation!
The majority of ANC MPs voting to retain a damaged and corrupt leader in a secret ballot is more than a mere disappointment. It's a kick in the groin.
The only winner this week was Zuma. He was out crowing in front of his fervent supporters within minutes of the vote. He had reason to be pleased. He may be limping a bit, but he's still the president.
The fact that a faction-ridden party in the midst of an acrimonious leadership contest has been able to unite behind its beleaguered leader raises several questions.
For instance, what happened to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's supporters? Did they vote for Zuma? Does he really have the support that he's purported to have? Are they just fair-weather supporters?
And what does this tell us about the 2019 elections? Will disgruntled ANC supporters, unconvinced by the opposition's solicitations, be persuaded to come back into the fold?
But a bigger question, brought into sharp relief by events of the past few weeks, ishow we elect those who legislate our affairs. Whom do they speak for, if they speak at all?
It's a sobering thought that, 23 years after the advent of our much-vaunted democracy, we're still arguing about whether MPs owe their allegiance to political parties or to the people whose votes sent them to parliament.
Voters, it seems, have been conned. They have no way of holding to account the people they entrust their votes to. It's a blank cheque for parties to use it as they see fit.Ideally MPs - and all elected officials - are the face and essential agents of a democratic system. Our MPs are rightly called public representatives, but in reality they are not answerable to the public, nor do they reflect its views. They're no better than mercenaries, or hired guns.
Gwede Mantashe, an unelected apparatchik, was in the parliamentary precinct this week discharging a fusillade of threats and instructions to the ANC caucus. Do as I say, or else. And the hostages duly did as they were told. It's a demeaning spectacle. It also debases and devalues our democracy.
The core problem is a political system that lacks accountability. One cannot expect valid or sound outcomes from a system that's flawed or defective. Our democracy has a hollow ring to it. The cog that's missing is the voter, who's only recognised and serenaded during elections, and then promptly forgotten. No wonder people are out in the streets protesting and torching buildings. Their views are hardly heard or reflected in the corridors of power. Violence, as they say, is the language of the unheard.
The voter needs to be brought right into the centre of our system. The case for electoral reform is so patently obvious it's almost boring to keep banging on about it. Put simply, every official who holds public office or has any sway over people's lives - be it a councillor, mayor, MP, premier or president - should do so by virtue of direct election to his position by the people themselves.
That role has been usurped by the elite. Party leaders decide who goes to parliament. MPs elect the president at their party's behest. Which is why party leaders love the current system. It gives them all the power. They're the gatekeepers and can easily hold members in check.Parliamentary and presidential candidates should stand for election in their own right, voted into office on the strength of their own agenda - instead of sneaking into office almost through the backdoor as they now do. And when an MP leaves or dies, a by-election should be held to fill the vacancy, rather than the ridiculous revolving door where people come and go without even a scant referral to the electorate.
If an accountable electoral system were in place, Zuma would have been removed from power long ago. MPs would have been pressed to act against him for fear of de-selection by their constituents. It's also debatable whether the ANC would have even dared to put forward such a fallible and incompetent individual as its presidential candidate in the first place.
The system lacks checks and balances. It gives too much power to party leaders at the expense of the electorate and is therefore inherently undemocratic. It should change, and soon.

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