In democratic countries we tend to focus a lot on elections as being the yardstick of being ‘truely’ democratic. Nothing wrong with this as after all, the ability of a society to go through the process of examination of politicians without trying to stifle debate and hide unpalatable stuff is a measure of the maturity of a democratic society.
Election processes and their free and fairness does not alone make a democracy. The other side to this is the Iindependence of freedom form political interference of the courts to carry out and enforce the laws of the land that have been put in place by the democratically elected government.
The moment politicians start to mess around with judges independence and alter and bend laws to ensure that people cannot be brought to account for crimes, and use ‘popular protest’ as a means of circumventing the law, then voting just becomes a sham.
Venezuela being an example. Chavez finds some mayors are elected he doesn’t like, fine, he just gets a bunch of thugs to occupy the town halls calling it ‘popular protest’, he then sets about changing the laws to render officials and the courts inoperable. Sure, there was an ‘election’ but it’s what happens after that’s the problem.
All countries have this issue to varying degrees, in New Zealand you could argue that the Electoral Finance Act was an attempt to curb speech in a way that favours the Government of the day.
The imminent election of Jacob Zuma as president is possibly another erosion of the rule of law in South Africa. There’s no doubt he is popular and that his political opponents have tried to be rid of him. But he has made it clear he is going ‘reform’ parts of the law and these apply directly to the charges against him that were thrown out in less than transparent fashion.
The fact that Zuma has managed to avoid being held to account for a string of very dubious charges while those associated with them got slapped on the wrist and let off, should be worrying for all South African’s. One of South Africa’s greatest strengths in Africa is that it’s legal system functions properly through the courts which do not have the corruption obvious in other African states. If Zuma messes with judicial independence then South Africa’s competitive advantage will crumble – not to mention the gradual corruption that will permeate the system leading to a huge backward step.
Optimists might say that Zuma will be different when elected and a bit more gracious, but personally doubt it. Power corrupts, and if there’s already corruption there, then the power Zuma is about to get will corrupt him even more.