The sad tale of how democracy has gone off the rails in Zimbabwe reminds me of a conference I attended a few years ago for Opposition Parties throughout the world. Some delegates had never ever won an election; others had spent much of their lives imprisoned by the Governing Party. In some of the countries, the Government controlled the Press, ensuring that the electorate received a partial account of what was going on.
The 2001 General Election in NW Hants
In view of the hurdles that confronted many of them, it was clear to me that few would see the inside of a red box or a Government Jaguar. During the morning we discussed a range of solutions – the supervision of elections by outside observers to make sure they were fair and free; the distribution of so-called Short money, to help Opposition Parties develop policies; the maintenance of a free press to inform the electorate; the regular holding of elections.
We were about to adjourn for lunch when a delegate, frustrated by the absence of effective solutions for his country, leapt to his feet. “Excuse me Chairman” he said “ We have not yet discussed the military option.”
Another delegation came to see me when there was a General Election taking place in their country. I asked one delegate if he shouldn’t be in his constituency, knocking on doors and drumming up support. “No need Sir George” he assured me “I have left my agent with enough money.”
And as I explained how we dealt with errant MP’s in the UK, a prospective Parliamentarian from a country where democracy has not fully developed, lent over the table. “Sir George” he said “I have been accused of some serious crimes in my country; if I become an MP, will I have immunity?”
I know we make mistakes in this country; but we need to keep them in perspective.