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THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE

By DARLINGTON CHILUBA

THE right to vote for all citizens (universal suffrage) is an achievement whose history touches on race, gender and class biases across the globe.

There is no greater reward for any human being, than to have their opinion valued and respected, whether one agrees with that opinion or not.

This is not necessarily a democratic or ideological privilege; it is an extension of the human condition to be valued and respected whether one agrees with the opinion or not.  

Governing systems that embrace succession over elections, such as monarchies and dictatorships have lost wide popularity for a number of reasons.

The first is that every governing system has its traditions and principles that must be preserved so that every successive leader adheres to them. The second reason is that those systems with steeped traditions prioritise self-preservation in any form above service to public. 

In most cases, the public system is tilted so that it preserves and serves that governing system through payment of taxation, for example, or an education system that instills servitude to the ruling order.

Heroic characters of rulers will be taught in schools so that the right amount of adulation and idol worship is given. It rarely matters if that recollection is accurate or indeed factual as long as it raises the profile of the ruler

Such environments typically prefer punitive legal systems to instantly discourage opposition and curtail any potential for a leadership system in future that is different.

One that may discredit existing traditions and the renowned status of the ruler(s). Those in authority often rely on the law to distance rulers from the anything imperfect.

For example, even today, the installation of a new monarch (king or queen) is preceded by rituals and events that suggest the consent of the heavens, if need be, for the new ruler. 

This infusion pre-supposes to people that opposition to that ruler is equivalent to opposing the gods or God (in the case of Christianity). 

The idea that God prefers certain rulers or leaders over others was quickly adopted by dictatorships worldwide.

Furthermore, dictators created personality cults that gave the impression that unlike the monarchy, theirs was an actual choice of the people either through revolution or via the electoral system.

Overtime, however, the electoral system was undermined because the actual authority to change anything in the nation was taken away from the people and bestowed upon the ruler. 

Dictatorships defied the core principle and dignity of humanity to have the right to participate and choose leaders of their own choice – not those imposed. 

The core tenet of elections is to facilitate change and progress beyond the lifetime of any given individual. Logically, as new voters enter the voting stream, and as new citizens attain the age to make national choices, it should be natural that leadership also changes.  

Whether the dictator was military or civilian did not ultimately win the public any favours because the military or security system had prevailing authority over social life.

In some countries, even Zambia at some point, governments controlled what people could watch and read so that ideas of revolution were not entertained anywhere. 

Yet and still, there is something inherent in the human soul and psyche that refuses to be docile in the face of injustice.

Those proponents of mass movement and revolutionary ideas such as Antonio Gramsci (see Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 1971), long encouraged that mass movements had the power to replace even the most repressive and oppressive systems of government that isolated themselves from needs of society. 

In reality, even the most brutal dictatorships were forced to concede by amending constitutions or face overthrows (Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana are examples). Eastern Europe, South America and Africa witnessed a wave of mass movements that bore a new leadership through the ballot. In this respect, the mass movement in Zambia was galvanized by a progressive and mature opposition that fought long and hard to ensure that a change in the constitution paved the way for multipartyism. Any other options were not appealing to them, especially violent options. They have not received due credit for ensuring that all non-legal avenues were curtailed until the rulers conceded to amend the law so that the right to participate in national affairs was restored back to the masses as it is today. 

Leadership by its very idea ensures that people actively critique and participate in affairs that affect them. The right to participate is an inherent gift.

For if God gave some people the right to rule or lead, he must have surely imparted upon others the right to choose who leads them or rules over them. No one has the right to take away from the other, their birthright to self-identity and self-determination. 

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