Monday, September 08, 2008

Democracy Part XV: In Which Elections Serve as a Prelude to Carving Power in Democratic States

Elections in some democratic states appear to be a prelude to real political change than its marker. In some states, elections are meant to substitute or amplify the para military campaigns among and between political followers that tend to serve as the real field on which elections are determined. So it is in Zimbabwe. "The MDC leader gained more votes than Mr Mugabe in March elections but official results show he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of the June run-off, saying some 200 of his supporters had been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes in a campaign of violence led by the army and supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF." Mbeke Bids to Save Zimbabwe Talks, BBC News Online, Sept. 8, 2008. But this system has recently been overtaken by the international legal order's taste for management of physically violent political contests. Enter South Africa, with its own interests to protect.

In the context of this most recent election the latest gyrations of President Mugabe and his South African benefactors have proven most instructive. See Mbeke Bids to Save Zimbabwe Talks, BBC News Online, Sept. 8, 2008. Mr. Mbeke has recently flown to Harare to save Robert Mugabe from the fate of other "big men" in Africa. "At the negotiating table it has been three against one - with Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Arthur Mutambara, who leads a minority faction of the opposition, joining forces with Mr Mugabe to put pressure on Mr Tsvangirai to accept the Zanu-PF power-sharing plan." Allen Little, Nkomo's Ghost Hauunts Zimbabwe Talks, BBC News Online August 13, 2008.

We are reminded by the press that
Both Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claim to have won this year's elections, marred by widespread violence.Since South Africa-brokered crisis talks broke down last month, both sides have hardened their positions.Mr Mugabe has said he is ready to form a government alone, while Mr Tsvangirai over the weekend said there should be new elections if a deal is not reached. South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said Mr Mbeki would meet both men, as well as Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller opposition faction.

Mbeke Bids to Save Zimbabwe Talks, supra. We are also reminded of the fate of the last man who agreed to power sharing arrangements with Robert Mugabe--Joshua Nkomo. See Allen Little, Nkomo's Ghost Hauunts Zimbabwe Talks, BBC News Online August 13, 2008 ("Mr Mugabe has in mind what you might call the Nkomo solution: he retains control of the military and security services that he has used so successfully to terrorise his way to successive election victories.In other words he retains the coercive instruments of real executive power. Mr Tsvangirai gets the economy to sort out. Mr Tsvangirai is not weak enough to have to accept this poisoned chalice." Id.). Because elections tend to be bloody in Zimbabwe, and the political culture stalked by the force of ethnic, religious and other rivalries, managerial internationalism would seek a solution that while appearing to respect the form of democratic organization subverts its essence in the service of violence abatement. Stability, it seems, trumps even the forms of democratic change--and why not? In this case the hope might well be to rid Zimbabwe at last of a dictator without either the continued pretense of more "elections" or the fuss of a potentially quite bloody civil ethnic war in Zimbabwe.

From the perspective of the culture of law and its use in the settlement of Zimbabwe's government, is the way in which Mugabe continues to deploy the imagery of anti-colonialism against both his opponents and any non-African state that seeks to weigh in against him and his rule. Thus, it would seem, that because Mr. Tsvangiai profits from Western European and American anti-Mugabe sentiments, "Mr Mugabe makes hay with this, accusing his rival of being the candidate of Western interests, of resurgent British imperialism. This plays well in much of Africa, but it no longer plays well in Zimbabwe, where there is now real economic privation." Id. Ah the irony. It reminds me of a comment about another great practical philosopher of politics once made many years ago by H. L. Menken, but one ultimately far less successful than this modern version:

AN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHER: As for William Jennings Bryan, of whom so much piffle, pro and con, has been written, the whole of his political philosophy may be reduced to two propositions, neither of which is true. The first is the proposition that the common people are wise and honest, and the second is the proposition that all persons who refuse to believe it are scoundrels. Take away the two, and all that would remain of Jennings would be a somewhat greasy bald-headed man with his mouth open.

H.L. Mencken, Damn!: A Book of Calumny Section XXI (New York: Philip Goodman Co, 1918). Mugabe's philosophy might well also be susceptible to that sort of reductionism--that all that is bad and evil originates from the European world, and that those who refuse to believe Mugabe's telling of it are traitors. The resemblance is uncanny. Thus both the great power of a rhetoric of resistance to the colonial experience, and the ease with which that resistence can be used to reconstruct a law and political-culture system that undermines rule of law in its process and substantive aspects even as it appears to safegard it against neo-colonialist interference. Tyranny, it appears, might use the fear of tyranny to perpetuate its own abuse in the name of sovereign values thus undermined.

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