The Dilemmas of Opposition Political Parties in Southern Africa

This paper focuses on the dilemmas of opposition political parties in Southern Africa as they grapple with the double roles of democratising state and society and attempting to capture state power in an environment that has been ideologically hostile to the existence of opposition political parties. The supremacy of the liberation parties in the region makes it very difficult for the opposition political parties to rise to the challenge of offering alternative policy positions. The legitimacy enjoyed by the liberation parties causes ideological dilemmas for the opposition in its competing claims about the shape of economic and political governance. In extreme cases the opposition has to find strategies for responding to harassment, attacks on their supporters, media bias, misuse of state resources and the constraints of the dominant party system. Drawing on examples in Southern Africa the paper highlights the contradictions inherent in the perceptions of opposition parties in governance, their relative electoral weakness and the expectation that they should be the guardians of democracy in a multiparty system. The paper contends that the opposition in Southern Africa has been neglected in the governance debate. If Barrington Moore’s maxim ‘No opposition no democracy’ is used to measure the levels of democratisation in Southern Africa it needs to be changed to ‘No viable opposition no democracy in Southern Africa’.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections
Tags: and the People’s Transformation Party (PETRA), Civic United Front (CUF), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), National Democratic Alliance (NDA), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Republican Party (RP), the Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (MAFUNDE), United National Independence Party (UNIP)