Politicians plot their own downfall

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Mahao MahaoThe sacking of former Trade Minister Temeki Tšolo is now water under the bridge, but this episode highlights the relationship between the voter and whoever stands for election in colours of any party they choose.

While the alleged assault he committed has already been condemned by many, the incident has implications way beyond the 2017 national elections provided this coalition completes its five-year term.

I will tie this issue to some public complaints in the media — especially radio — that certain MPs come across as rather too arrogant and use abusive, threatening and disrespectful language when addressing public comments and questions from some radio presenters.

The people residing in the constituencies won by these politicians accuse them of losing touch with the masses.

These are the same masses who braved the elements, forming snaking queues and enduring hunger and fatigue to vote for the very politicians who now display arrogant behaviour.

The real circumstances driving a minister to an act of assault are unknown to the rest of us apart from the story of the M10 change following payment of toll fees.

We neither know which party the assaulted voted for in the 2012 general elections nor the constituency in which she cast her ballot if she did.

However, let us for a moment imagine a scenario where the said minister might have assaulted someone who actually placed an X against his name on the ballot paper!

Now fast-forward to the 2017 elections and — justifiably — ask if the lady would vote for the same politician or party again.

Throw into the mix the entire family and friends of the assaulted and observe how much brand damage the respective political party might have suffered.

In this era where some of the victories and defeats in certain constituencies have been so marginal we can realise just how costly losing a few votes may be.

The concerned party will need to do some carefully managed damage control — apart from the subsequent dismissal of the minister — or the incident could be really catastrophic.

The same residents who ululated and chanted when Tšolo won the Mafeteng constituency may not be pleased and will need assurance that this sorry incident was a once-off and will not be repeated by any politician in future.

Some acts are politically suicidal and the wise make it a habit to learn from the mistakes of others as learning from one’s own may not leave much room or opportunity to recover from a downfall.

For some it can be very hard to rebuild a ruined career. Politicians with the ambition to prolong their careers beyond one term of office will not, in spite of provocation, attack or verbally abuse the voting public.

This is tantamount to biting the hand that feeds you or digging one’s own grave and it plays right into the hands of the opposition which will surely capitalise on some of these weaknesses. Any politician who wants their career to span more than just the first term of office will know how valuable a voter is and that their destiny lies in the hands of the voting public.

Politics is known to be a dirty game but calculating politicians usually reserve venom for those they compete with and not those whose votes they depend on. Any politicians who rise against the public are sending a clear statement that they do not need public support in any future election.

How then they hope to be voted back into power is a mystery?

Political parties may well be advised to seriously consider giving sound orientation to their MPs to prepare them for their new (and for some unfamiliar) responsibility. It could be money well spent.

All of us have some flaw of character. Even perfection is a state of mind not a reality.

However, our politicians need to understand that the connection that binds them to the voter is almost a sacred bond and must be respected. Self-defeating habits by some of them could fast-track a demise that may leave them wondering precisely what happened to a career which appeared so full of promise.

Just north of the Limpopo River, Morgan Tsvangirai allowed some of his character flaws to play into the hands of an 89-year old opponent who duly capitalised on them.

A former editor and columnist of a South African Sunday newspaper dubbed Tsvangirai a “bed-hopper” who sold a revolution that was so full of promise.

Tsvangirai’s serial womanising was to be his ultimate downfall and he dragged his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party along with him down the precipice. He failed to capitalise on his party’s excellent performance in the 2008 elections and instead saw dwindling support in the 2013 edition.

Being party leader for him was especially detrimental as the erosion of his public image sounded the death knell even for the entire MDC image.

Failure to deal with allegations of corruption within the MDC at local level did not help either. Much effort will be needed to repair this battered image.

Politicians must not forget that we live in an era of unprecedented media scrutiny where technology can either build or break their careers.

As some binge-drink, womanise and socialise with dodgy characters they must remember that with advanced technology, social media and the smart phones, it can take just minutes for their images to go viral around the globe and instantly tarnish the reputation they took years to build.

They should be among some of the most cautious groups of citizens as for them public image is everything and they must literally guard it with their lives.

We are not in any way trying to curtail their freedoms; rather we want to preserve their integrity for their own sake. For some of us responsibility means forgoing certain practices and habits.

A miscalculated step can be deadly as many leaders have already discovered and will continue to unless they raise their vigilance.

 

l Mahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho

 

 

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