The talk is ‘Multi-party democracy’, the ACT IS not!

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

August 26, 2011 (SSNA) — Of late there has been much talk about the adoption of multiparty democracy in the new state of South Sudan, despite the conspicuous domination by the one party; the SPLM which practically keeps the key posts in the government and non-government institutions across the country. Consciously or otherwise many things continue to reflect behaviors characteristic of the administrative style that evolved in the liberated areas during the liberation war. It is this state of affairs that is likely to interfere with the concept of allowing for ‘a constitutional space’ for the other political parties to operate side by side with the SPLM, without harassments or intimidations.

It is not uncommon to find someone who will tell you that the 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan that came into effect on the 9th of July 2011 defines the new country as a multi-party democracy, yet everything that has so far transpired has failed to reflect this view. None of the current transformation and reconstitution processes that involved the country’s Council of States as well as the National Legislative Assembly can be considered as promoting Multi-party-ism when all the non SPLM-satellite parties have been intentionally sidelined and denied participation in favor of veteran political figures and individuals.

South Sudan has in total a registered number of 23 political parties and per the present exercise, the President of the republic has only handpicked a handful of participants from five political parties known for their ambivalent positions. Calling this an inclusive process is to cut corners with the ultimate intention of creating yet another ground to marginalise others. It is already an open secret that in the presence of the hard-lined SPLM leadership that continue to look at itself as not only synonymous with the liberation struggle, but also as the rightful heirs of the independent South Sudan state, the much talked about ‘democratic transformation’ will remain a farfetched dream.

There are already examples to support the argument that the SPLM/A, leadership is more comfortable running the country as a single party state, while it remains inherently short of both intra-party and inter-party democratic practices. SPLM must adapt to the basic principles of democracy within its own ranks and file, if it is ever to champion a democratic transformation in the territory that many of its members lay controversial claims to have liberated, when what we see is a mere replacement of an old master by a new one.

For those who had shared late Dr. John Garang de Mabior core philosophy of ‘the liberation movement’, revisiting it may do them some good.    “The liberation was from what” and not “from whom”, stated Dr. Garang. With this clear cut definition the SPLM/A founder succeeded to counteract the negative propaganda of the Jallaba Islamists who tried to discredit him, by accusing him for being against the Arabs and the Muslims.

With this philosophical and well thought definition of the type of liberation that the SPLM/A had set itself to bring to the Sudan in general and the South Sudan in particular even if it opted to secede as is the case now, one can only say that with all that we have achieved, our country still remains far from being liberated as long as tribalism and marginalisation of minorities by majorities remain a rampant practice. No doubt that Dr. Garang will be remembered for his paradigm that ‘no one is any others’ minority nor is anyone any others ’majority’, however the performance of the leadership he has left behind seem too dwarfed by his high standards.

South Sudan awaits the true liberation; and there is everything to suggest that the people are beginning to resent the lack of direction as the status quo remains dominated by the old guards who see the declaration of independence as an end in itself.   We need to be in a clear appreciation of as to why South Sudan is experiencing a rapid backtracking from the slogans raised during the liberation wars. There is an urgency for all the stakeholders to stand up for the values of democracy even if that means falling out with those in power, for to keep quiet and pretend that all is fine is to collaborate with the evil, to say the least.

It is time that everyone concerned about the politics of the new republic of South Sudan – citizens, ‘foreign friends and business partners’, regional and International bodies – must all understand that the raised slogan for ‘inclusive nation building’ of South Sudan has been compromised by the SPLM leadership through the intentional exclusion of those political parties that criticized the Transitional Constitution (2011) in its draft form. With the old guards bent to resist any changes to the status quo, it is empirical to contemplate that the multiparty democracy as acclaimed in the 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan is becoming more of President Salva Kiir’s political PR to appease the European and the American donors more so than ever trying to bring it into a felt and lived reality and thus closing the doors for the much needed political plurality, essential for a healthy nation building.

With the way things stand now, there are many political parties and individuals alike who are likely to become long term victims of political marginalization as a consequence of the general apathy shown for ‘the principles of political plurality’ within the inner circles of the ruling SPLM party. Left as it is, it will not take very long before they (SPLM) begin to see ‘NCP’, each time they look themselves in the mirror. This though sounds a whistle blowing; nonetheless it presents an urgent need to find an alternative political road map which will harmonize the relationship between SPLM and the other political parties.

Both National sovereignty and nationhood come with huge responsibilities of how freedoms are dispensed and practiced. It is these things which we take for granted at the first glance, that are vital for the realization of ‘the people centered development’, and they need to be realized in order to create the necessary environment for fruitful national dialogue.

The South Sudan Transitional Constitution (2011), has been criticized for its numerous shortcomings on issues considered central to the practice of democracy if not its sole cornerstone, as it runs short of the all-important ‘separation of executive powers from the legislative powers (currently it is President Kiir who appoints MPs or assigns them positions in the Parliament) while understandable it is also going to be him to appoint his executive cabinet, all these make a mockery of its claims for a multi-party democracy as referred to somewhere earlier.

With most of ‘the outspoken political parties’ now intentionally barred out from participating in any of the two Houses of Legislation for the fact that they don’t agree with most of the ways the SPLM does business, this so-called ‘inclusive multiparty democracy’ is already dead at its best.. Whatever the President’s intentions are, the exclusion of the non-confirming political parties from the new country’s main stream political forum will have deprived South Sudan of much of their valuable contributions that no doubt would have enrich the political debates in both Houses fulfilling the true meaning of national consensuses.

Whatever it is set to take, no stone should be left unturned to bring pressure to bear on the SPLM leadership in order to demonstrate through actions on the ground that it is indeed willing to engage in ‘a multiparty democracy’, for that is entirely constitutional. The other alternative of course is to continue giving lip service to ‘democratic transformation’ while in reality operating autocratically which is not without a price. This of course by all means isn’t any good for a leadership that wants to continue enjoying cheek to cheek greetings with the ambassadors of the big Western democracies.

We all know that a poorly managed democracy has the reputation to produced coerced popularity, then flawed elections, then a nationwide resentment and instability, that often than not escalates to those notorious ethnic cleansings or xenophobia that continue to hang over the politics of the African continent. These are not the problems of democracy, but rather they are the problems of ill- embraced and mal-practiced democracy.

The author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party (USSP). He can be reached at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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