Let’s just say it: The SPLM party is the problem

By Gai James Kai

January 24, 2015 (SSNA) — It’s not surprising that the SPLM leadership agrees to some extents in Arusha, Tanzania; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying SPLM politics for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In my past writings, i have criticized both warring parties when i believed it was warranted. Today, however, i have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the SPLM Party.

The SPLM has become an insurgent outlier in South Sudanese’s politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an South Sudanese news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the SPLM Party has shifted sharply to the wrong. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the National Legislative Assembly are virtually extinct.

What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South Sudan. They included the non – mobilization of social conservatives, the anti-tax movement launched by this failed party’s Proposition, the rise of conservative talk and the emergence of News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar.

Ironically, after becoming President and Vice President respectively, these two wanted to enhance SPLM’s reputation and was content to compromise with Dr. Jonh Garang when it served their interests. But the forces Salva Kiir unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-democratic base — most recently represented by opposition party activists — and helped drive moderate believers out of National Legislative Assembly. (Some of his progeny, elected in 2010 elections, moved to the failed ruling party, SPLM and polarized its culture of intolerant in the same way.)

Today, thanks to the SPLM – IO, compromise has gone out the window in South Sudan. In the first 13 months of the ruining South Sudan, now these two are nearly to come together again; leaving the orphans whom they have killed their parents stranded in bushes and UN camps.

In the nine and now ten years of the Kiir and Riek’s administration, divided government has been produced, something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in the history of South Sudan or the then Sudan, with partisan divides even leading to last year crackdown of the country.

On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, and health-care reform, SPLM has been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign of 2010, SPLM leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes payers’ money and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.

SPLM often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth — thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge — while ignoring contrary considerations.

The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight SPLM co-sponsors of a bipartisan corruption reform plan dropped their support; by early 2010, the others had turned on their own proposal so that there would be zero backing for any bill that came within a mile of Salva Kiir’s reform initiative. 

This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file the voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.

Oppositions are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Salva Kiir and his then Deputy, the oppositions have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.

No doubt, these oppositions were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward Dr. Jonh Garang during his ruling. But recall that they worked hand in glove with him though on the “New Sudan ideology.”

In the National Legislative Assembly, some of the remaining oppositions “Blue Dogs” Dem have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even ardent SPLM – DC, such as freshman Dr. Lam Akol, has faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist.

I understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of South Sudan are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

My advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to NLA filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the upcoming “elections.” How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties?

In the end, while the press can make certain political choices understandable, it is up to voters to decide. If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before it gets better.

(This article is dedicated to my beloved uncle; Gier Diew Kuong who has just been killed by Salva Kiir’s reign of terror. May your soul Rest in Eternal Peace dear uncle.)

The author is a Law Student and columnist who have written numerous articles on politics, economics, democracy, Law and order. He can be reached via [email protected] or follow him on Tweeter @gai james kai

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