Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher, wrote about the idea of the “consent of the people” in his seminal work, “Leviathan.” In this work, Hobbes argued that the legitimacy of government depends on the willingness of individuals to give up some of their natural rights and freedoms in exchange for the protection and security provided by the state.
Hobbes believed that the state of nature, without a strong central authority, was a state of war and chaos, and that individuals would voluntarily give up their rights to a sovereign in order to establish a social contract and ensure their safety and security. This idea of the social contract was central to Hobbes’ political philosophy, and he saw the consent of the people as necessary for the legitimacy of the state.
While Hobbes’ ideas have been highly influential in the development of political philosophy, his views on the nature of the state and the social contract have been widely debated and criticized. Nevertheless, the idea of the consent of the people remains an important principle in democratic governance, where the legitimacy of the government depends on the willingness of citizens to accept its authority.
Zimbabwe is currently in its last stretch home to a crucial election where stakes are already high. Both incumbent, Zanu PF leader and President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, who leads the main opposition Citizen for Coalition Change (CCC) are seeking nothing but victory.
Mnangagwa wants to run for his second and last term, if the constitution is not butchered to allow him a third term, while Chamisa, buoyed by the recent victories in the by-elections, is adamant that this time around “victory is certain.”
Looking at the political set up in Zimbabwe, Hobbes’ ideas on the “consent of the people” and the social contract are reflected in several ways.
Firstly, the idea of the social contract is evident in the Zimbabwean constitution, which outlines the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the state. The constitution establishes the framework for a democratic system of government, where the legitimacy of the state depends on the willingness of citizens to accept its authority.
This speaks into freedoms which everyone including the opposition political actors should enjoy. Such freedoms include being allowed to gather freely, associate freely and be able to vote for a candidate of one’s choice.
However, in practice, the reality of the political system in Zimbabwe falls short of this ideal. Under the rule of the late veteran leader, Robert Mugabe, the government was known for suppressing opposition voices, rigging elections, and using violence to intimidate voters. This created a situation where the consent of the people was not freely given, but rather coerced through fear and intimidation.
In the run up to the 2018 elections, Mnangagwa allowed the opposition to freely campaign and sell their manifestos to the citizens. The country enjoyed a relatively free and peaceful electoral campaign period for the first time in two decades, a feat which earned him respect even from the international community.
Chamisa, then under the MDC Alliance, traversed the width and breathe of the country without fear, and this allowed the people of Zimbabwe to exercise their consent without coercion.
Despite events of August 1 where protestors were gunned down, many commented on the nature of the electoral period which was peaceful. This breathed a fresh breeze of hope that elections, going forward will be free and fair erasing the recent history of electoral violence and intimidation which has made it difficult for citizens to express their consent through the ballot box.
The Mugabe regime was notorious for suppressing opposition voices and rigging elections, leading to widespread mistrust in the political process.
The positive strides that Mnangagwa took in the run up to the 2018 elections are slowly being eroded by reports of the banning of the opposition political rallies by the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Chamisa’s party claims that over 63 rallies have been banned and this usually leads to a disputed election where the winner eventually suffers a legitimacy crisis.
In a democratic system, the legitimacy of the government depends on the willingness of the people to accept its authority. This consent is typically expressed through regular, free, and fair elections, where citizens have the right to choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their actions. Thus, where one party is not allowed to freely campaign, the whole electoral process becomes a comic dramatic work that is meant to wood-wink the general populace.
These developments are cause for concern and, if not nibbed in the bud, could signal a return to the authoritarianism of the Mugabe era. While Zimbabwe trudges towards the crucial plebiscite, It is important for all organs of the State to play their role in making sure that the winner of the forthcoming election wins everything including legitimacy and the people’s consent.