Depending on your political allegiances, there is no sadder or enjoyable sight than a politician who has out lived their sell by date. It is a fact of political life that leading politicians more often than not cling to power as if their very lives depended upon it. These days the words of Enoch Powell that, ‘All political careers end in failure’, are repeated as if they are a truism, when they are nothing of the kind. The main reason why so many of our leading politicians careers end in failure, is due to their inability to let go of the leavers of power at the most opportune time. If the only outcome of such egotistical dawdling was a diminished reputation, then it would be no more than the politico deserved, but unfortunately almost all politicians who linger to long in power do great damage to the countries and people they govern.
At the moment we are witnessing the sorry spectacle of the long drawn out ‘retirement’ of the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In recent years Mugabe has spread layers of excreta over not only his reputation, but also what remains of Zanu.PF, which was a merger of the two organizations that liberated Zimbabwe from white colonial rule.
In his day Mugabe was a towering figure and undoubtedly one of the most able leaders to emerge from the African Liberation Movements. He managed his nations transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe with enormous skill; and in the process keeping on side the best of the White population whom he had fought a bloody civil war against. He and his comrades were also able to merge the remnants of the old Rhodesian army and the liberation fighters successfully. If he had left office after two terms he would have been respected and held in admiration both within Zimbabwe and throughout much of the world.
Instead as is the way with all those who stay to long, he gradually surrounded himself with a clique whose very existence depended on him remaining in office. Unable to deal with some of the problems he faced, rather than looking outside his immediate circle, he resorted to making demands upon his fellow Zimbabweans which could never be fulfilled, whilst the clique that governed his every move whispered in his ear about the guilty ones who were responsible for the nations decline.
Undoubtedly the sad plight of Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe played an important role when the ANC drew up the new constitution for South Africa. The leaders of the ANC were wise enough to understand that no one is immune when it comes to politicos overstaying there welcome. Thus to many peoples surprise they adopted from the US Constitution two Presidential terms in office then out! This was less surprising than one might think, for whilst ANC leaders like Thabo Mbeki had spent time in the USA, many within the organizations strong Communist cadre had witnessed at first hand the debilitating and stifling affect of having geriatric leaders like Brezhnev, Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko and the role this played in the downfall of the once mighty Soviet Union.
The UK and Ireland has also had its share of politicians who refuse to move over and allow the next generation to take power. The lingering presence of Eamon De Valera had a deadening impact on the development, economically, culturally and politically of the 26 counties.(Republic of Ireland) Only in the last decade has the country ‘begun’ to emerge in its own right as a nation beholden to none. Although there is still unfinished business and at some time the countries politicians will have to find the courage to put the Roman catholic church firmly in its place, only then will this part of Ireland join the ranks of the worlds truly secular states.
It is to early to tell whether by retiring in May the current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, (Irish prime minister) has put his problems with the Mahon Tribunal behind him, what is not in doubt is if he had left office after two terms and not contested the last general election he would undoubtedly have gone down as one of Ireland most successful politicians since the Free State was founded in 1922.
Some thing similar could have been said about Margaret Thatcher had she gone after two terms, although I’m afraid Tony Blair had blackened his copy book to such a degree over Iraq nothing could save his fall into historical ignominy.
Due, not least to Lord Acton’s dictum, we have known for some time that ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ so why have we failed to adjust our democratic systems accordingly. Those who live in dictatorships have there excuses, but what in a Democracy can be put forward to justify allowing our prime ministers to serve more than two full parliamentary terms in office. The more so, when in the last 60 years, the UK and Ireland have had the living reminders of De Valera, Thatcher and Blair, surly it is time for fixed term parliaments and a limit of two terms in power for the highest office holders.