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Parliamentary Monitor: Issue 17
Parliamentary Monitoring Trust (Zimbabwe)
December 13, 2011

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To Whip or Not To?

My friend calls himself Matigari. This is after the protagonist in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s novel by the same title. He, to some extent, fits the character of the protagonist. He sees things in a very simple but deep manner. He sees the other side and proffers solutions when others are looking for a way out. We often differ on our political out-looks. He dismisses my world view as tainted by globalisation. He argues that while we may have been villagised by globalisation, there are some problems specific to the village which will never be solved no matter ‘how wired we may become.’ Last week, after my brief stay in the City of Kings and Queens, Matigari asked me a very simple question. ”What do you think about the whipping system?” I tried to answer the question as asked but I realised my response was being circumlocutions. I realised that I had not had a very deep thought on the issue especially in the Zimbabwean context. Matigari, naughtier on realising that I was stuttering and wobbly in my response added a question: Does it serve any purpose in our Democracy? You should have been there to hear how he pronounced the word Democracy! I realised the sharpness of his wit and quickly thought of damming such wisdom as an input for this week’s instalment. Matigari had no kind words for the whipping system calling it the ‘dictatorship of the ruling elite.’ As usual, Matigari appeared to have thought over the issue for long. He said he had read from a torn newspaper at one of the most unlikely places and he had been left wondering whether we were better off without the system. “Mislike me not for my awkward opinions. But man, if democracy is all about competing ideas which are debated, then why should one class ask the representatives of the people to take a certain stance. Is this not a case of the party becoming more powerful than the will of the people. Are we not giving the party touch power? And what makes the party think that its position should prevail over that of the MPs?” Matigari’s reasoning, simple as it seemed struck me. He attacked me for saying it worked saying it was because my worldview had been impaired by the acceptance of everything about democracy. He said while it could have worked in other countries, democracies, the whipping system had been abused. What stops the party from abusing its power. If one differed with the party position, then it should be known and that MP should be given a platform to explain why he holds that position. It could be they are speaking on behalf of the people they represent. The party may not represent anyone except some elites who financially support it and those with necessary political capital. We have the same problems with democratic centralism, the product of a genius called Lenin, his full Russian name is complicated. It was used to wage a struggle and post the struggle, it was abused. The issue is that the chief whip should only whip MPs into line not the party line. s/he should make sure that they attend sessions. What made Matigari worried was that the executive had a tendency of whipping the MPs, threatening them if they chose otherwise. The problem comes when one looks at it with the lenses of separation of powers. The executive will now be two pillars in one in a democracy and who knows, they could also be controlling the judiciary and that, according to Matigari was a dictatorship.

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