OPINION: We deserve better

Norman McFarlane

On Tuesday last week, Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain when he beat his closest rival, Jeremy Hunt, in the leadership contest of the Conservative Party, polling an impressive 66% of the 159 320 votes cast in the election.

That his ascendency to the throne of British politics is less than widely welcomed, is evidenced by the commentary that emerged in the lead-up to the Conservative leadership poll, and subsequent to his triumph. Adjectives like “flamboyant”, “bombastic”, and “ruthless” are routinely used to describe Mr Johnson.

His move to No 10 Downing Street follows the resignation of Theresa May, who inherited a poisoned chalice from David Cameron after his calamitous handling of the referendum which led to a 52% vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union. The mayhem that has ensued since that fateful poll, has paralysed British politics which has been marked by intra-party and inter-party infighting, with seemingly little progress towards a resolution of the Brexit crisis, which continues to hold the country in thrall.

The opposition Labour Party is as divided as is the Conservative Party, and the possibility of an early election if Mr Johnson isn’t able to successfully navigate Brexit, leaves little hope of a new government being able to lead the country out of its present dilemma.

In short, the business of running the country appears to be on the back-burner, and the electorate watches helplessly while the politicians gut each other over Brexit.

Across the pond, Mr Johnson’s American alter ego, President Donald Trump, is gearing himself for the 2020 presidential race, following a bruising first term, during which his legislative agenda has been advanced more by the wielding of executive orders, than by the passage of bills in the Senate and the House.

In similar vein to South Africa, the opposition has increasingly turned to the courts to thwart Mr Trump’s often questionable agenda, with varying degrees of success.

The recent release of the report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election by Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, and Mr Mueller’s recent appearance before a joint congressional judiciary and intelligence committee, neatly exposes the bitter war being fought between the Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Senate and the House.

As much as left-wing Democrats want to pursue impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump, Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, knows that the initiative will fail when it gets to a Senate vote, without sufficient bi-partisan support, and since Mr Mueller’s testimony did not deliver the much-anticipated smoking gun, that bipartisan support is a non-starter.

But the divisions in the Democratic Party transcend the fight over whether or not to impeach Mr Trump.

With the second debate in the Democratic primary race looming, the ideological differences between the candidates, and the lengths to which they are prepared to go to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, raise the alarming prospect that despite Mr Trump’s destructive first term, the Democrats might not be abel to field a candidate who is sufficiently appealing to the American electorate, to deny Mr Trump a second term.

Even if the Democrats do field a credible candidate, much like happened in 2016, Mr Trump could still win by virtue of the peculiarity of the 538-strong presidential electoral college, even if his Democratic opponent wins an outright majority in the popular vote.

Meanwhile, back home, our own political melodrama unfolds each day, and it is, in many respects, little other than a nauseating soap opera, except that the eventual outcome has potentially dire consequences.

After nine years of destruction at the hands of Jacob Zuma, during which the opposition had to resort to the courts in a desperate attempt to thwart the agenda of the executive, the age of Ramaphoria dawned, and hope was rekindled.

Just 20 months after Cyril Ramaphosa wrested control of the ANC from the radical economic transformation populist faction, by a razor-thin majority out of 4 500 voting delegates, our politics is again in crisis.

Once the halo effect of Ramaphoria had worn off, it became evident that despite his best intentions, Mr Ramaphosa faces titanic forces in his own party that are determined to thwart his reform agenda.

Mr Ramaphosa’s “long game”, in which he relied on unfolding of events and the law taking its course to neutralise his opponents, seems to have faltered, and his position as president of the ANC and the country seems increasingly precarious.

As the damning evidence of state capture emerges at the Zondo Commission, the backlash against Mr Ramaphosa’s reform agenda grows, further exposing the yawning fissures in the ANC.

Incredibly, the very mechanism that Mr Ramaphosa used to remove his predecessor from office, could be harnessed by his enemies to remove him.

The ANC national executive committee does technically have the power to recall him as president of the ANC, which, if he is a loyal party member, will lead him to fall on his sword and resign as president of the country.

It is only 11 short years ago, that Thabo Mbeki did just that, when, after becoming president of the ANC at the Polokwane elective conference, Mr Zuma engineered the political demise of his nemesis.

The political conflagrations which are raging in the United Kingdom, America, and in South Africa, have startling similarities, characterised as they are by electoral systems in which a vanishingly small minority gets to decide who heads the executive.

It beggars belief that we accept as normal that our elected representatives, who have sworn to serve us, the people, cannot easily be called to account.

The siren song of the populists appeals because democracy is broken. It is time for change.

We truly do deserve better.