By Jacob K. Lupai
July 30, 2012 (SSNA) — To many it may or may not be of interest to talk about political parties in South Sudan needing reforms. However, reforms are a must in an establishment if that establishment is to survive and prosper into the distant future. An establishment that does not reform may become monolithic and progressively becoming too deformed to be reformed. It may therefore be appropriate for an establishment to take stock for rejuvenation in facing the future. A political party is no exception. A political party needs to rejuvenate through reforms to be strongly attractive to members, supporters and sympathizers. Without reforms a political party risks becoming out of touch with local, national or international development. A political party with a national agenda needs reforms but the one with a hidden agenda may be resistant.
Political parties in South Sudan
South Sudan has a number of political parties with varying sizes of membership. Some may be too small but all the same they claim they are representing people’s aspirations. It is not possible to cover all the political parties in South Sudan. Taking a small sample of political parties which may not be representative can do for the purpose of discussion here. In the order of seniority in formation, the political parties in the purposively selected sample are the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), South Sudan Democratic (formerly Civic) Forum (SSDF), United People’s Party (UPP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC).
As expected each political party in South Sudan claims to work for the betterment of people. This suggests that the parties share a common ground, that of putting the interest of the people of South Sudan first. In order to confirm that indeed the parties share a common ground in South Sudanese politics we may need to look at the main objective of each party.
Objectives of the political parties
Each political party has a main objective to achieve in realizing prosperity for all. However, political parties are good at developing objectives but achieving the objectives in practice is another story.
The main objective of the SPLM is to transform South Sudan into a country of peace, freedom, unity, equality and prosperity for all. This is indeed a noble objective. Nevertheless, the SPLM has been in power in Southern Sudan for six years and in the Republic of South Sudan for one year, making a total of seven years yet the objective seems like a wishful thinking. Peace either between South Sudan and Sudan or within South Sudan is still fragile. Freedom is nowhere to be felt when people are detained, tortured and then released without charge or when some use the might of the gun to threaten and beat up innocent civilians for claiming their inalienable right to possess their grabbed property.
Unity is not in isolation of equality. Equality promotes unity but in South Sudan tribalism and nepotism which are a part of corruption is jeopardizing the very unity we are trying to promote. Prosperity for all is definitely a wishful thinking because there seems to be no attempt for tangible promotion of freedom and equality. Arguably the SPLM has a mammoth task of realizing its main objective because of its incompetence, as the dominant party in government, in providing basic services such as protecting innocent civilians from injustice. Property grabbing from legitimate owners who do not get protection is a case in point.
The main objective of the SSDF is the establishment of a secular, democratic, federal and sovereign republic with freedom for all citizens from any form of discrimination. However, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the SSDF in its own right because it is like a junior partner and an employee of the SPLM in government rather than being in opposition as an independent party capable of challenging the SPLM for the presidency of the country. Naturally the SSDF can hardly be critical of the government as an independent party could because the SSDF is part of it. It can therefore be seen that the SSDF have the same objective with the SPLM and arguably share the same incompetence in delivering.
For the UPP its main objective is to realize the equal worth of all with no one cast aside, fairness and justice for all. Equality and justice is the trademark of the UPP. However, the UPP is nowhere to be seen on corridors of power. It seems the UPP is a party not yet of strength despite its noble objective. It may be advisable for the UPP to align with a party of similar main objective for strength.
The vision of the SPLM-DC is security, prosperity and dignity for all and the main objective is to achieve national unity in diversity predicated on common aspirations, history and expectations, and building confidence between communities in South Sudan. This is also a noble objective. The SPLM-DC is the official opposition and unlike the SSDF can be critical of government’s shortcomings. As the opposition, in theory, the SPLM-DC is the government in waiting. However, when the SPLM-DC contested in the last election against the SPLM for the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan, the SPLM-DC lost with a wide margin.
In other cases the failed SPLM-DC leader should have resigned to give way for one other charismatic and trustworthy member to contest for the leadership of the SPLM-DC in order to contest in the next presidential election against rival parties. Nonetheless, the SPLM-DC blamed rigging of the election for its failure to secure the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan. This probably had encouraged no change in the leadership of the SPLM-DC. The SPLM-DC leadership will, nevertheless, find it an uphill struggle to cultivate the trust of the electorate because of the wider margin in the last presidential election.
Differences between political parties in South Sudan
In the sample of the political parties there seems to be hardly any difference in the objectives to be achieved. As a common theme all the parties talk of freedom and equality of citizens. The paradox is, if all the parties share common themes in their political programmes why they shouldn’t join forces as an example of unity they all preach. Understandably the differences may be in perception. Each party perceives it has the solution to the problems the country faces and the party sells this to the electorate. Depending on the resources and the extent the party is persuasive, the electorate will cast their votes according to their perception of the contesting parties. However, the electorate sometimes does not vote according to the party but how the contesting individuals are perceived. This may be where political parties need reforms.
Reform of political party and government
As already mentioned, a political party that does not reform risks being seen as monolithic and out of touch with developments. Political parties in South Sudan may need to consider reforms to be progressive with time and people’s aspirations. For example, the party electoral system of endorsing or rejecting a member as a prospective candidate from the county should be reviewed and reformed. The chairman and members of a party at the county level should be endorsed or rejected for a position as a candidate in an election by the county branch of the party but not by the party’s headquarters. It is then that any member of a party should be eligible to contest for any position without restriction. The chairman of a party should instead be coordinating for the success of any of their members contesting with a rival party’s candidate.
It should not be necessary for somebody called the national, state or county chairman of a party to be the only to contest against a rival party. A party should conduct a local election within its membership to determine one potential candidate to contest with a rival candidate. For example, the governors of the states and indeed any other member that belong to one party should contest among themselves to determine who among them should be the candidate for the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan against candidates from the other parties. However, this can only happen when a party is reformed with new set of rules and regulations as may be agreed upon by the membership of the party concerned.
The concept of inclusive government where other political parties are accommodated is nothing but appeasement or political bribery. It should be the election results to determine how the government should be formed. The party that gets the majority votes should have the exclusive prerogative to form the government. Losers in elections should be contented with being in the opposition or as members of specialized committees of parliament. In case of a hung-up parliament the party with the slight majority can join with other party or parties to form a coalition. Inclusive government cannot be seen as the promotion of unity. It is the electorate to decide the unity of the country by voting for the party that has a serious programme for strong unity in diversity but not an inclusive government of candidates rejected by the electorate or who have never contested at all.
In conclusion, political parties in South Sudan need reforms to produce charismatic leaders that have the capability to steer our country towards the path of rejuvenation for a strong unity. We are people rich in diversities and resources that can be harnessed in promoting peace, freedom, unity, equality and prosperity for all. The seven years of self-rule seem to confirm that without reforms South Sudan is condemned to life of misery. When unchecked rampant corruption, tribalism and nepotism will ultimately lead to disunity and this will be a very high price to pay for the hard won independence with the precious blood of the over two million martyrs, many lying in shallow or in unknown graves. Reforms are a must for prosperity for all. No South Sudanese political party is too deformed to be reformed. Opportunities abound and the sooner we embark on reforms the better.
The author can be reached at [email protected]