Elections are coming in 2018, and the Zimbabwean opposition parties and various coalitions are lifting their girdles and preparing for this last ditch effort to unseat ZANU PF and its geriatric leader, but there is a problem. Most of us, the constituents and the public at large have no clue what these parties stand for or represent besides unseating ZANU (PF). A search on Facebook, Google and various WhatsApp groups and it becomes quickly apparent that communication is seemingly not a priority
To put it plainly the majority of these so-called opposition parties have failed to put forward what they stand for on paper in a manifesto.
Any political party seeking to be elected to higher office must be able to clearly articulate who they are and what it is they stand for. For this purpose, two documents must be produced and shared in the public domain so that those of us looking for a party to join or vote for have an idea of the structure and the arrangements of the party organisation and what that party stands for.
The two documents are the party constitution and the party manifesto. Below we explain in detail the contents and purpose of these documents.
The Party Constitution
The constitution should detail the structure and organisation of the political party. Further, it should set out the arrangements for the party’s governance and the rules for how party business is done. The constitution should detail things like the management of the party accounts, changes in the party leadership and the roles and responsibilities in the party to name a few.
The constitution must reflect how the party is managed. As a guide it should include:
- the party’s aims and objectives – for example, that one of the goals is to stand candidates at elections
- the structure of the party – for example, if there are branches or accounting units
- how the party is run – for example, the frequency, timing and type of meetings, the quorum for meetings and how decisions are made
- what officer positions are in the party and their responsibilities
- the party membership requirements
The constitution should be kept up to date, and the members and constituents advised every time there are significant changes.
The Party Manifesto
A manifesto is a publication issued by a political party before a General Election. It contains the set of policies that the party stands for and would wish to implement if elected to govern.
A manifesto can be used by the constituents to compare the positions of different parties on particular topics of concern to them as a constituent. It provides a capsule summary of the parties’ policies and way to retrospectively hold a party to account.
By voting for a party that means that the constituent is endorsing the blueprint contained in the manifesto and giving the party a mandate to govern.
The purpose of a manifesto is to:
- make the party accountable
- clearly set out the party policies and help voters make a decision
- fire up – or rescue – a party’s campaign
Manifesto and Coalition
In Zimbabwe, coalitions are appearing like mushrooms and manifestoes have a role to play here. The manifestos if they exist can be used as a starting point for negotiations. There will be common ground on some policies, and others on which parties will not budge – or in shorthand, the “red line”. Without a manifesto how can a party let alone the members be assured that they are getting a fair deal out of any coalition? The parties in the coalition can go through the manifestos and produce an agreement setting out a programme for government.
Those opposition parties that have not already done so should present their manifesto’s so we the constituents can finally understand what it is that they represent. How many members of the voting population have the resources to read through old newspaper articles and watch Youtube videos to divine what a party and its leadership represents for the future of our country?
Some have suggested that the delay in producing manifestos by some of the opposition parties is because they do not want their ideas to be stolen by their compatriots or ZANU (PF). This type of thinking if true is not only self-defeating but it also shows a lack of political maturity and foresight. There is no monopoly on ideas to solve the problems Zimbabwe is facing. The real test will be to see if those ideas can be successfully implemented with short, medium and long-term benefits for the nation and its people.
The Zimbabwean voter must learn to demand accountability from their politicians and this begins with the promises and pledges that are made during the campaign for power. Politicians can not go from one rally to the next randomly changing the narrative they are peddling. By having a manifesto this sets a bar against which a party and its leaders can be measured during the campaigning and whilst they are in government.
It should be noted that even if a party has a solid manifesto as part of their campaign package, there is no guarantee that they will do everything that they pledged they would do, or they may do things they never mentioned in their manifesto or campaign. The option for the voters is, in the event of a deviation, they can in fairness vote them out when their time is up if that is what the majority want.
Opinion: If a party is not prepared to put forward a manifesto, then stay well away from them – do you know what you are really voting for and do they really have the conviction to stand by their pledges. If the manifesto does not deal with some of the most pressing issues of our time again stay away from that party – if parties strategies are a secret before they come to power, it is highly unlikely this behaviour will change post victory.