Zimbabwe: Holding a Mirror to Democracy

zimbab.jpgAllies of Iran’s tough man President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad have won a colossal victory in the parliamentary election hours ago. Countdown has begun for the national election in Zimbabwe following the United States of America that has been large on the media front in the past few months with its presidential race. Indisputably, democracy is flourishing in every nook and corner of the world- evidently manifested in the route of election. But, wait a minute! How many countries in the world acknowledge the celebration of democracy in Iran? Why is the national election in Zimbabwe agonizing the international community? Why is the world anxious about the democratic presidential candidate in the United States? Well, there is a diverse outlook on democracy in each of these nations. Democracy is a concept that a country cannot do without. Democracy has been the reputed means to achieve liberty. Democracy and liberty are seen as mutually binding concepts. However, what happens when democracy puts a ceiling on freedom. The stance of democracy of a land is identified with the limitations on the freedom of its inhabitants.

Political analyst Dr. Fareed Zakaria in his book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad urges us to make democracy safer for the world in the 21st century. Zakaria initiates research into an arena that is often ignored by many political scientists for the inability to construct an alternative model. Dr. Zakaria states that democracy cannot always be a panacea for all the ills of a nation state. In his opinion, constitutional liberalism is not equivalent to democracy. A democratically elected leader may not necessarily guarantee the shield of liberty and rights of individuals who vote him to power. The perpetrator of the worst human catastrophe of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler, came to power through the democratic process of election. The trend of illiberal democracy is intensifying. While the model of democracy is being widely accepted by the nation states with different culture, history and economic structures, the idea of constitutional liberalism is not prospering at the same time, as Dr. Zakaria argues.

The international media is closely scrutinising the national election in Zimabawe as never before. Zimbabwe has a democratic “autocrat” as their leader. President Robert Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe for past 28 years that is he has been the only president of Zimbabwe since it gained independence in 1980 from the United Kingdom. He is taking a lot of pain to organize national election this year, which he conveniently won in the past. The international community too, does not take any trouble to observe if this democracy is accomplishing the desired goal of freedom of people. The elections have to be free and fair.

This year the challenge to certify fair elections in Zimbabwe has been undertaken by Southern African Development Community (SADC), with the government barring the observers from the European Union. The EU has expressed deep concern over the rigging of election in Zimbabwe with the deteriorating political and economic situations. The strain between constitutional liberty and democracy has to be focussed on the functioning of the government. To quote Dr. Zakaria, “The tendency of a democratic government to believe it has absolute sovereignty (that is, power) can result in the centralization of authority, often by extra constitutional means and with grim results. What you end up with is little different from a dictatorship, albeit one that has greater legitimacy.”

The country is in a huge crisis with the highest inflation rate anywhere in the world. The migration of inhabitants from Zimbabwe has been spoken to be the largest in peacetime. The barefaced violation of human rights is also in the rise. The country, which was once known to be the breadbasket of the region, is facing acute shortage of food and starvation. The army chiefs have extended their absolute support to President Mugabe and have declared that even if he loses they would not decline their commitment to Mugabe. Does this unequivocally proclaim that, if not for Mugabe, it means the death knell of democracy in Zimbabwe? Even so, the qualms on individual liberty linger in the minds of international community.

Dr. Zakaria articulates that democracy being “the last best hope”, the effort should be made to strengthen democracy by constructing institutions that can build democracy.

Annapoona Karthika

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sokwanele/1366410578/]