SPLM’s 3rd national convention, will democracy be on hold yet again?

By Deng Vanang

March 21, 2013 (SSNA) — As the SPLM readies its self for its national convention, many columnists and political observers are falling over one another in weighing in their invaluable opinions as to what shall be in the store a head of the D-day. The ruling party is gearing up for its third national convention in two months time, probably in May. It is an occasion that comes once within every span of five years.  This convention is exceptionally historic in a number of ways. It is first of its kind to be convened by the ruling party in an already independent South Sudan. It also comes in the wake of an acrimonious second gathering that nearly flunched semi-autonomous Southern Sudan into another around of civil war five years ago. That was May, 2008 to be precise.  If the acrimony wasn’t foiled, it could have been Southern Sudan rising up against itself than the usual North it always scapegoats for its perennial woes. Not over the liberation for freedom but over who should get in the driving seat to wield the reins of the most coveted powers of the ruling party, SPLM. Fortunately enough wisdom prevailed to reprieve the war weary Southern Sudanese from the cliff of yet another devastation too soon. Then, the good gesture provided the opportunity of achieving long cherished future of an independent state that could have been adjourned if not jeopardized completely. Such necessary intervention pulled it back from the brink of uncertainty.

With South Sudan becoming sovereign state since 2011, the second mission is geared towards building itself in what is called second liberation era after many centuries of colonial rule under three different colonialists. One being that of Turks followed by Anglo-Egyptian condominium and the recently concluded Arabs’ one. Each of these colonial strains equally caused untold destruction of its own kind both in human and material terms to South Sudanese. This second liberation like anywhere in the world is championed through legally established institutions than through crude firepower. That is the civil society groups and registered political parties. In the latter individual citizens and social groups acquire membership in order to air their own views on how best the country can be run. In the process of building non-existing state infrastructures, law and order, democracy is certainly the force driving the second liberation through its distinct element called participatory democracy. This democratic concept requires the involvement of all citizens as mobilized and sensitized by civil society institutions and fourth state {media} to have a say on the affairs of their own political parties and state. Each party has its ideology and political programs imbedded in principles of fundamental freedom in its all kinds, fairness, justice and equal opportunities for all the citizens of the state.  Then, the party goes out along the way to sell its ideology and political programs to the perceived electorate in periodically competitive elections. The party or coalition of parties whose programs appeal to the majority of electorate wins the elections and secures itself the golden opportunity to serve the whole country. That is irrespective of who is in what party while other parties become the respected minority with the constitutional mandate to constructively criticize the programs of the party at the helm until the next elections after the elapse of five years term in case of South Sudan. That is only if the party in power is not removed through a vote of no confidence by two-third majority members of National Assembly to trigger an early election.

Liberal democracy

However, what my opinion piece focuses on is liberal democracy whose practice drives some individual elements nuts at its mere mention. Here the trouble is not with the term democracy but individuals who accustomed themselves to dictatorial management of things. They lack practicing democracy although they are well versed with its theoretical part and only fond of using word democracy as a slogan to pacify restless local citizens into accepting their shaky legitimacy. Gullible western donors who tie economic aid to the promotion of any stuff feebly sounding democratic also fall prey to their empty rhetoric. When the reality of practicing democracy dawns on them, they recoil and come up with all sorts of different definitions they can lay their quivering lips on. This is done all in a belated attempt to distort the true meaning of democracy simply to keep themselves afloat on the corridors of power. The closest straws at which they clutch in desperate struggle to remain politically relevant are terminologies like consensus or guided democracy as the chosen method through which leadership can change hands within the party. Guided democracy is when interested individuals or parties from certain categorized groups are allowed to safely compete for certain positions allocated to them. Affirmative action such as 25% given to South Sudanese women is one of the best examples of guided democracy. Or in the ethnically and religiously divided countries like Rwanda and Lebanon respectively government portfolios are allocated proportionally according to the percentages garnered by competing parties after the general elections. The backlash is that this mode inhibits much needed managerial effectiveness and efficiency because certain groups must be apportioned their shares anyway whether they are capable of delivering or not. The same democratic mode adversely affects social integration and national cohesion between distinct groups with strained relations in the organization or the country at large with likely future fallouts. On the contrary, consensus has something to do with boardroom sharing out of most strategic positions between a few but invincible power elites to avoid invertible physical and ideological acrimonies. The losers in this convoluted democratic arrangement are the ordinary members with no with withal to enter the board room where the spoils are shared, which in all fairness disfranchicizes them.

Retrogressive forces

This certainly leads to the pertinent question given our present political state of affairs as South Sudanese. Why would some people who pride themselves as intellectuals at this modernizing age in South Sudan allow themselves to be swept under feet by totalitarian forces of retrogression? Democracy has never been a stranger visiting South Sudan. It is as old as the mother land South Sudan if not newly sovereign South Sudan. To justify this sticking point a little further, we used to have chiefly elections in villages without any incidents of violence. In fact no community elders from Upper Nile had ever gone to Bhar-elgazal and Equatoria and vice versa to settle cases as a result of election disputes. During the era of regional government numerous democratic elections were held to the envy of the north when educated percentage of our population and exposure of our people to the outside world civic behaviors were closest to nil. Our democracy was only tainted by Ethiopians when they decided to prefer Dr. John Garang to his Uncle Akwot Atem as the democratic choice of our people at Itang refugee camp. It is this Ethiopians uninvited intervention that has lived to disorganize our established tradition of democracy and polarize South Sudanese along SPLM/A – Anyanya Two lines, followed by five years inter-factional destructive armed conflict. It’s the same SPLM/A – Anya-nya two pestering divide that caused 1991 split in the former for about twelve years and subsequently went down to cause an immense loss of lives and unnecessary delay of independence. Another failed attempt to restore democracy we can talk of was 2008 SPLM‘s second national convention when the unionists, especially northerners in collusion with a few Southerners in Presidential court, tried to rig out the separatists seen as the major threat to their ambitions in the party. Two factions had the marriage of convenience that intertwined them. Northerners wanted to kill the surging independence spirit in the South in the run up to referendum while kiir’s handlers desperately wanted to railroad any bad omen {Machar} that would prevent their man from continuing as the President once and for all. There and then, democracy had to be deliberately put on hold due to overriding public interest.

This postponement of democratic process went on to affect the leadership structure in the SPLM when Kiir adamantly refused to compete with President Omar Al-bashir for Sudan Presidency as his equal in the rival National Congress Party, NCP during 2010 general elections. Instead he decided to vie for junior position of President of an autonomous Southern Sudan meant for the party’s Deputies to the Chairman. In this case, Dr. Riek Machar and Wani Igga as the SPLM’s constitution might implicitly stipulate. The idea of putting democracy on hold at both party and national levels at the time was done as the necessary but short term measure to deal with the emergency of gaining independence first. But the national interest at the time could not currently sustain the created precedence of indefinitely postponing democratic exercise to salvage the vested interests of a few under the pretext that losing communities would resort to violence.  In spite of that glaring fact, masters of crises are now on a look out for more crises in four corners of the world they can gather, bring and present to SPLM delegates as to why open democratic elections do not augur well for SPLM members and by extension the South Sudanese. The trick as callous as it appears is to falsely paint democracy as an alien political concept to South Sudanese society just to defend one man’s job under siege. While the contrast is true that our people cherish fairness which is the bedrock of democracy since time immemorial. Even still, our people are war weary which is why current South Sudan rebels’ grievances cannot thrive on violence as there are hardly people available to join the rebellious forces and swell their ranks and piles for a full scale civil war. This is why they are to endure harrowing eight years of SPLM’s kleptocracy with all its accompanying negatives of ethnic chauvinism and subsequent hatred widespread across South Sudanese social fabric never before witnessed in such a massive scale in the history of this country. Those numerated vices have lived to snatch away the future of South Sudanese children but unwaveringly our people decided to remain straight path in their quest for a peaceful change of regime some day. And therefore, the problem with democracy in South Sudan currently is not that our people are intolerant to democratic norms. Truth of the matter is rather the burning greed and personal ego with which most South Sudanese leaders pursue public offices not to serve people per se like in the past but to enrich themselves, extended families and clans. The crude urge to remain in public offices at all costs has even gone to an extent of one’s imagination of a loss at the ballot is becoming a zero sum game equated with death. That is the farthest this self destructive selfish attitude has gone which a few political elites have developed towards holding public offices.

Attitudinal change

To change this negative state of mind, internal democracy in the parties has to be enforced as it is no longer one party’s internal matter. For it is what will pave the way for a wholesale democracy nationwide through competitive elections. It is the failure to rein in undemocratic behaviors in the parties that always spill over into national elections. To avoid it, this calls for an inclusion of Anti-corruption Commission, National Election Commission, NEC and Judiciary that are truly impartial, neutral and independent. To cleanse of South Sudan of dirty politics, thieves who have stolen public money and criminals wanting to push up careers with flesh and blood to power must be depoliticized and put permanently in retirement by Anti-corruption Commission. For it totally beats common sense a stable, prosperous country we hope for can be brought about by thieves and criminals and neither can they sustain it if it ever exists. NEC’s mandate is to be expanded to preside over free and fair internal party elections while judiciary shall adjudicate post election cases as the result of mal-practices. Resultantly, the three watchdog institutions shall not only prevent mushrooming of political parties that intend to polarize the country along regional and ethnic enclaves due to flawed internal party elections but also build a more mature and viable culture of democracy that works to stabilize body politics, crackdown on an endemic corruption and encourage economic growth through both local and foreign direct investments. In its quest for a truly democratic South Sudan, NEC should make noisy voting by either acclimation or show of hands a thing of the past as it is archaic and equally old fashioned. For this method of electing leaders favors a top cream of them, especially the incumbent whose seemingly staying powers and scanning eyes during selection intimidate vulnerable voters, the largest voting block, with so much to loss if he/she victoriously returns to the helm. This backward voting method also creates personal enmity in the party between losers and voters who help the winners win with the likely eventual fallout in the organization in more foreseeable future.

While on the contrary, secret voting signifies genuine democracy at work. Since the free will of the voters is not curtailed by the burgeoning powers of the incumbents and neither is it divisive for losers may not know their best of friends who cross over to vote in their competitors. It eventually pacifies and unifies ranks and piles behind both the winners and losers in the party during the post election period. It teaches the political culture of tolerance to the defeated which can easily be replicated at the national elections. For what we practice inside can easily be reflected on the outside. We speak out what we conceive first. Our actions don’t lie for they only ventilate what is truly hidden at the bottom of our hearts and reverse can’t be any different from the truth. Competitive democracy undoubtedly builds the nation via competing healthy ideas and motivates leaders, who rule due to the free will of the populace, to work the hardest for they know public wrath awaits them for anything less. But those who muscle their way to power never get serious about better performance since they only know too well their dictatorial tendencies of cowing hapless electorate into electing them shall come to bear whenever fresh elections beckon again. Such laizesfaire attitude puts them at liberty to either perform better or do so poorly since whatever shall be the end result is still rewarding to them in one way or another.

Democracy additionally is not only about tolerating views critical of oneself. It as well means embracing defeat humbly and winning magnanimously. Accepting defeat fairly reflects a sort of virtue in oneself. It shows strong character in someone who does so against pride and egocentrism. Anyone who overcomes defeat is well respected more than anybody who always wins at the expense of moral values that hold society together in peace and harmony. Thus, accepting defeat is the hallmark that distinguishes those who stand up for others in response to national call and the chest thumping lots who crave for only and only themselves with destructive mentality of superiority complex, coupled with false belief that they always deserve the right to win. No patriotism or love for the nation stands between them and tenacious self-pursuit for public of office. For it is either them or all hell breaks loose, they mindlessly brag.

SPLM inside politics

This mindless bragging is not confined in just some political parties. It manifests itself in SPLM in the most unorthodox manner. Which is why some members in the SPLM who seem to own the party could even afford to brag the loudest that anyone who didn’t consistently remain in the SPLM/A cannot dream of becoming the Chairperson or any other glamorous post. It is a hostile statement directed at those who defected from the main stream SPLM/A in 1991 to form SPLM/A Nasir faction. Introspect one cannot miss to wonder what became of reconciliation in 2002 that brought together once more Dr. John Garang on the one hand and on the other, Dr. Riek Machar and Dr. Lam Akol who long foresaw the anomaly and flanged out of what he once prophetically dubbed the fast sinking chip to form the official opposition party, SPLM-DC. When genuine reconciliation dictates the past is put behind and a new page is turned over. The same malicious view from the so called SPLM’s chest thumping owners connotes another point of contention against any basic party principle that SPLM members don’t share equal rights. New members in the party have to stay mum for a certain number of years before becoming something, reducing the party old membership to ridiculous status of just capturing leadership queue as the much needed performance takes a dive into the back seat. In this regimented social stratum, new and probably better performing members have no chance to ascend the heights of leadership ladder and worst of all, they are unbothered to see the futility of waiting in the party which can perish in any event of a disastrous  loss at just one election. Another fallacy usually banded about is an idea that the SPLM first Deputy Chairman, Dr. Machar or anybody else cannot contest against his/her boss, Chairman Kiir and anybody eyeing his position should wait in the wings for the year 2020. When in fact democracy is conceived to be the leveled playing field in which any registered member in a given organization can vie for a post of their choice notwithstanding they can win or lose. Without a ting of logic some elements in Kiir’s inner circle went further in saying Machar can only contest for party Chairmanship if only accorded the blessing to do so by Kiir – implicitly making the latter the sole owner of the party with divine right of predestination to decide who should contest for what post. Those who make series of heart renting appeals to Machar to postpone his Presidential ambitions for the year 2020 cannot even be trusted given their already cunning statements. Come the year 2020, they may most likely come up with yet another cock and bull story of age limit to be enshrined in the constitution. That is barring Machar and unwanted others citing their old age to ascend to Presidency. The above mentioned unjust rules, to say the least, have indeed conspired to transform SPLM into George Orwell’s sorts of animals farm where some members are more equal than others. And what should have been the real issue worthy of debate over the fate of Kiir and Machar is fallaciously submerged under the sentimental tribal feelings. That is being the evaluation of Kiir’s eight years Presidential tenure on whether he performed well or poorly and Machar being put to test on the other to prove his Presidential ambitions on why he thinks he is the change the long suffering South Sudanese have been waiting for.

Deng Vanang is a Journalist and member of an official opposition SPLM-DC’s National Executive Committee, NEC and can be reached at: [email protected]

Previous Post
We will never ameliorate under the SPLM authoritarianism
Next Post
Sudan: Are The Brakes Coming Off The Train?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.