In the world of politics, polarisation like that subsisting in Zimbabwe can refer to the extreme and sharp divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes and disagreements on political processes and the conduct and level of intolerance.
By Brighton Musonza
Polarisation can refer to such divergence like public opinion in Zimbabwe or even to such divergence within certain groups. Almost all discussions of polarisation in political science consider polarisation in the context of political parties and democratic systems of government.
The implications of political polarisation in Zimbabwe are in no doubt and are the source of detrimental consequences to the livelihood of our people.
Overall, while the exact effect of political polarisation in general is disputed, it is evident from the Zimbabwean context that its implications has altered the character of the political process as well as the political composition of the general public and this is also reflected in many of the civic and religious institutions.
When polarisation occurs in a two-party dominated system like the Zimbabwe’s perilous situation, moderate voices often lose power and influence. Political scientists identifies a variety of causes of political polarisation, as including political parties, redistricting, the public’s political ideology, and the mass media.
Some scholars argue that diverging parties have been one of the major driving forces of polarisation as policy platforms have become more distant and tolerance becomes an issue. This theory is based on recent trends elsewhere and empirical evidence of persisting with the politics of intransigence in Zimbabwe, where the ZANU PF as the ruling party, prioritises the positions that are most aligned with its party platform and political ideology.
The adoption of more ideologically distinct positions by political parties can cause polarisation amongst both elites and the electorate. A situation that explains Zimbabwe’s long standing stand-off between ruling party ZANU PF and majority of Zimbabwean people.
Is polarisation ssymmetrical?
The ideological consolidation nationwide has happened on both within the ruling party Zanu PF and within the opposition political spectrum. And to a considerable degree, polarisation is reflected in the personal lives and lifestyles of those on both the well politically connected and the down trodden.
Elite polarisation as it stands in Zimbabwe; refers to polarisation in Zanu PF as a party-in-government and Zanu PF party-as-organization. It occurs when party members (both elected government officials and activists within the party Zanu PF itself) grow more internally homogenous on policy positions and more divergent relative to members of other parties. PolariSed political parties are internally cohesive and unified, programmatic, and ideologically distinct, and are typically found in a parliamentary system of democratic governance.
Popular polarization occurs when the electorate’s attitudes towards political issues, policies, and people are starkly divided along partisan lines. Members of the electorate and general public typically become less moderate in cases of popular polarization.
For us to understand ZANU PF we have to refer to political science research that have shown that politicians have an incentive to advance and support polarised positions.
Some scholars argue that, parties with entrenched power like that of ZANU PF use polarising tactics to become the majority party and other theories claim that politicians who cater to more extreme groups within their party tend to be more successful, helping them stay in office while simultaneously pulling their constituency toward a polar extreme.
A study by Nicholson (2012) found that voters are more polarised by contentious statements from leaders of the opposing party than from the leaders of their own party. As a result, political leaders may be more likely to take polarised stances.
With regards to multiparty systems, Giovanni Sartori (1966, 1976) claims that the splitting of ideologies in the public constituency causes further divides within the political parties of the countries. He theorises that the extremism of public ideological movement is the basis for the creation of highly polarized multiparty systems. Sartori named this polarising phenomenon polarised pluralism and claimed it would lead to further polarisation in many opposing directions (as opposed to in simply two directions, as in a polarized two-party system) over policy issues.
In democracies and other representative governments, citizens vote for the political actors who will represent them. Some scholars argue that political polarization reflects the public’s ideology and voting preferences.
Dixit and Weibull (2007) claim that political polarization is a natural and regular phenomenon. They argue that there is a link between public differences in ideology and the polarization of representatives, but that an increase in preference differences is usually temporary and ultimately results in compromise.
Morris P. Fiorina (2006, 2008) posits the hypothesis that polarisation is a phenomenon which does not hold for the public, and instead is formulated by commentators to draw further division in government.
Other studies indicate other areas applicable to the Zimbabwean context that points to cultural differences focusing on ideological movements and geographical polarisation and for example; the growing Zimbabwean prosperity gospel church groups highlight the empirical evidence of religious, and other cultural divides within the public that have often influenced the emergence of polarization.
Another theory contends that religion does not contribute to full-group polarization, but rather, coalition and party activist polarisation causes party shifts toward a political extreme.
In some post-colonial countries like Zimbabwe, the public may be polarised along race or ethnic divides that remain from the colonial regime; and it is a motivation behind ZANU PF’s failed policies premised on correcting the imbalances of the past resulting in daunting challenges facing longstanding economic collapse.
In Zimbabwe; economic inequality is also motivating the polarisation of the public. A case in example for Zimbabwe, is that of in post-World War in Germany, as the ruling fascist party, emerged as the dominant political ideologies, and proposed to address Germany’s economic problems in drastically different radical ways leading extreme polarisation.
According to Luedi (2010), citing Bayart’s conceptualization of sub-Saharan Africa in his work on “Politics of the Belly” in Africa” – the notion of governmentality is linked with that of extroversion, dependence, and subordination. Extraversion entails the gratification from what is outside of the self, specifically the practices and motivation to acquire material resources and power. The impulse to be able to benefit from the current political atmosphere / situation, compels political actors to “mobilize resources derived from their (possibly unequal) relationship with the external environment.”
The mass media has grown as an institution over the past half-century. Political scientists argue that this has particularly affected the voting public in the last three decades, as previously less partisan viewers, listeners and readers are given more polarised news media choices.
Almost without exception, and as an integral part of the pressures for the opening up of the political space, the monopoly on media ownership exercised by the state was broken during the coalition government through the licensing by the Zimbabwe Media Commission of private newspapers, radio stations but it has not helped the growth of the industry resulting in the continued stronghold by the State.
The mass media’s current, fragmented, high-choice environment and Zimbabwe’s State media has induced a movement of the audience from more high-toned political programming to more antagonistic and extreme one-sided broadcasts and articles.
These programs tend to appeal to partisan viewers who watch the polarized programming as a self-confirming source for their ideologies.
Judicial systems can also be affected by the implications of political polarisation. Ultimately, the increasing presence of ideology in a judicial system impacts the credibility of the judiciary. Polarization can generate strong partisan critiques of Judges, to which scholars argue do damage the public’s views of the legitimacy of the courts and the justice system.
Judicial polarisation, in contrast, is underexplored as an aspect of political polarisation and as a determinant of judicial behavior. Justices evolve ideologically over time. The evidence on Court polarisation suggests that ideological movement on the Court tends to be in one direction—justices tend to become more liberal the longer they are on the Court.
One of the central questions in the study of judicial politics concerns the independence or autonomy of courts from other political branches. In general, it means that judges are free to make their decisions without interference or influence from any source, including elected officials. Scholars differ in their definition of judicial independence, and the arrangements to ensure such independence vary from country to country (Russel and O’Brien 2007).
The emergent ideological polarisation on the Court has profound implications for how the Court will figure in the national political discourse and how its interactions with polarization forces will affect the constitutional order. A polarized Court is more vulnerable to the attacks of reconstructive presidents. Presidents may take advantage of Court polarization to politicize Court decisions in a bid to detract from the Court’s constitutional authority and to challenge judicial supremacy.
Consequently, some political scientists argue that because polarization causes confirmations to be more controversial, it decreases the public’s confidence that a judiciary and the law are unbiased and independent of politics
Some scholars argue that polarisation can contribute to a decrease in public interest in politics, a decrease in party identification and a decrease in voter turnout. Polarisation can alienate citizens, since it encourages confrontational dynamics between parties that lower the public’s trust in government and causes the public to perceive the general political debate as less civil because of the increasingly harsh and ideologically-minded political discourse across television, radio and internet sources. All these things characterises Zimbabwe today.
Polarisation has negatively influenced the proceedings of Zimbabwean law-making institutions by giving rise to an increase in confrontation in Parliamentary sessions, such that ZANU PF has somewhat deployed Buhera North MP Joseph Chinotimba as its strategic Chief speaker on contentious issues, excluding minority party members from committee deliberations, use of Parliamentary committees as tools of ZANU PF succession battles and increased use of the hold on executive and judicial appointments and the filibuster on non-contentious policy issues.
By hampering the policymaking process, polarisation in Zimbabwe has lowered the quality of legislation that is passed. Partisan tactics motivated by polarisation have decrease transparency, reduce oversight, restrict the ability of the government to deal with long-term domestic issues, and archaic laws have become the breeding ground of corruption.
Aside from domestic matters, scholars picks on Zimbabwe’s state of international relations; particularly with the West, by noting that political polarisation does undercut unified agreement on foreign policy and this has seriously harmed the country’s position in the world.
Division on foreign affairs can strengthens enemies, discourage allies and destabilize a nation’s determination.
This writer knows Zimbabweans like to be identified as cosmopolitan; streetwise and well educated people who prefer pragmatism for learning and development instead of being identified as theorists; but however, theory describes much of Zimbabwe’s well documented socio-political and economic problems and the country’s problems are a result clumsy pragmatism of homegrown fantasies of things like the infamous Casino banking, land reform, empowerment and indigenisation.
Brighton Musonza is a social, political and economic commentator and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org