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Lessons From The British Elections

THE just concluded general elections in the United Kingdom were of great interest because Britain is one of the fountain wells of liberal democracy. However, when the results showed a hung parliament, the first time it was happening since 1974, it became even more interesting.

This was because no single political party had secured enough seats in the parliament to form a government. The Tories (Conservatives) won the majority of seats without winning the election, with 307 seats, while the ruling Labour Party garnering 257 votes

The Liberal Democrats came a distant third with 57 seats, while others together secured 28 seats. Since a political party needs 326 seats to form a government in the British Parliament made up of 650 members, there have to a series of negotiations among the political parties to enable either of the two front runners to form a coalition government.

This has sparked off some anxiety in the system because a coalition government will lack the stability to take tough decisions especially in this period of economic anxieties in Europe and around the world. A coalition government will always bicker when the stakes are high, and when agreements cannot be reached it will collapse and another election might have to be called sooner than later.

While the negotiations towards the formation of the next government continue, we in Nigeria have a number of lessons to learn from the British elections. Number one of this is the need to maintain party discipline and to respect the supremacy of the party. The Liberal Democrats, for instance, demanded that their condition for entering into negotiation with Labour is that its leader, Mr Gordon Brown, must step down.

Brown has already agreed to go in September this year to give his party a chance to stay on in power. The interest of the party has been put above that of its leader. Here in Nigeria, top politicians made efforts to form a mega party to challenge the ruling PDP, but because of the individual interests of its promoters, the merger collapsed.

Another lesson we need to learn is that young people have been the drivers of this democratic process. At 59, Gordon Brown is easily the oldest major figure in the contest. The leaders of the Conservatives, David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, are in their early forties. David Miliband, the Foreign Affairs Minister under the Labour Government, who is a leading role player in the process, is also in this age bracket. But all of these people have been in politics for upward of twenty years.

What it teaches us is that we should prod our young people, men and women, to embrace politics early, learn the ropes and by the time they are in their thirties, be in a position to play challenging leadership roles. It is the lack of early involvement of our young people in politics that led General Babangida to assert that they are not ready to lead the nation.

We also learned from the British election (and the American ones before it) that even though the polls were conducted under credible and conducive atmosphere and generally free and fair, there were still traces of human imperfection, which were not allowed to soil the entire process. There were cases of disenfranchisement, but not on the massive scale of the Anambra 2010 gubernatorial polls. We also saw how politicians focused attention on issues of social, economic and political interest, rather than scurrilous attacks on individuals or contest for regional, sectional or ethnic supremacy. The overall interest of the UK within the comity of the European Union was paramount.

We should have paid more quality attention to the UK polls at official levels. It is interesting that there was no evidence that Nigeria or its INEC or even media houses sent observers or delegations to watch the British polls as we did those of Ghana and South Africa. Nigerian media houses sent many reporters to cover the US presidential election of 2008. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the British parliamentary system is not what we are practising here.

This does not remove from the fact that we have a lot to learn from former colonial masters, especially the critical democratic behaviour which we need to build up our own political culture.


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