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How to constitutionalise and democratise election party competitions (2)

By John Amoda
AMIN, a Uganda soldier became President of Uganda for eight years (1971-1979). He came from the Kakwa people of the West Nile area, in the far north of Uganda near the DRC and Sudan borders. For several decades many Kakwas and various other Sudanese peoples (together called “Nubis”) served in the British colonial army.

Amin grew up on the fringes of army barracks, before joining the army himself. He rose rapidly through officer ranks, becoming a Major in 1963, the year after Uganda became independent, and a colonel in 1964.

He became a Brigadier in 1967 and Major-General and Army Commander in 1968.
The above biographical details describe the emergence of a new kind of politicians without place in the pre-colonial order and for whom the colonial order was a bridge into a new world of new political beginnings.

For this class of politicians, elections were surrogate forms of contestations for state power. Professor Claude Ake in the following describes the prize to be won in the elections that effected the transition from the colonial to the post-colonial; the prize was the colonial state with its totalistic functions. According to Ake:

“Since the colonial state was called upon by the peculiar circumstances of the colonial situation to carry out so many functions-indeed to do everything- it was all powerful. It needed to be all powerful not only to carry out its mission but also to survive along with the colonial order in the face of the resentment and the hostility that occasionally broke out into the rebellions such as the Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya” (Ake, Claude, Ibid p.2).

Control of the colonial state immediately effected transformation of the status of the leadership of the anti-colonial parties, successor to the colonial regime. As the elected parties these first generation pro-Independence parties were transformed into post-colonial regime in control in the colony of the state, government and economic power of the colonial metropole.

Thus came the emergence of the problem of power sharing or zero-sum contestations for power. Africa’s post colonial history has shown that there are two options that define possible election outcomes. The zero-sum contestation carries with it the possibility of escalation of election contestation into civil war.

Thus the realistic option is not a majoritarian outcome, which as shown in Africa’s post-colonial governance mutates either into majoritarian despotism with the criminalisation of dissent or into governments of national unity, a scheme that is quite different from coalition governments constituted by alliance of independent parties.

Governments of national unity is a different name for cooptation of individuals from the minority parties into offices controlled by the seating government.

Governments of national unity in Nigeria’s governance experiences result in the weakening of the minority parent parties and the co-optation of individuals appointed to offices by the majority party. GNUs point in the direction of power sharing as strategy for prevention of escalation of zero-sum election contestation into civil wars.

It is therefore in the course of election contestations that concern for prevention of escalation of conflicts into civil wars prepares the ground for the constitutionalisation of election party competition for power. Constitutionalisation of competition is an issue where the exclusion from government as the outcome of electoral loss is deemed unacceptable by stakeholders.

The outcome of electoral victory in status upgrading haven become legitimated by all parties,  both by losers and winners, and given the transformation capability of incumbency in office, it is become clear that some form of pre-election negotiation on power sharing must now be acknowledged.

The present post-election negotiations based upon majority-minority rules of engagement are proving less and less satisfactory. Pre-election power sharing negotiations are informed by principles of state power equity, which are:
“Either confederal;
“Federal; or

So far, post-election negotiations for the formation of Governments of National Unity have been informed by unitarist principles of state power equity. This is presently the case in Zimbabwe and explains the instability in the political relationships between the partnering parties. The Kenya case is somewhere between the unitarist and the federalist and the Odinga Party has not found itself at the receiving end of the “take-it or quit” threats characteristic of the Zimbabwe case.

The call in Nigeria for a Sovereign National Conference on the terms of partnership in the Nigeria project seeks to place on the table the issue of power-sharing with the aim of developing constitutional principles of sharing of control of the government and its operations. Power sharing puts on the top of all agendas of reform the recognition of inequality of control of the institutions of power and the need for reduction of such inequality.

This accounts for the salience in Nigeria of the call for renewed federalism in an attempt at transformating the unitarist structure of government and governance of Nigeria traceable to military rule.

Against the appreciation of the Nigerian political instance of an African governance challenge, the call for the reform of the Iwu INEC is a call for a 2011 transitional election to effect a constitutionalisation of election competition.

Laudable as such an aim is, it is important that the context must not be a hypothetical one but of the condition prevailing. A fair and free election means an election where the following is the case:

“The elimination of the inequalities between those in power and in office and those aspiring to be in power and in office;

“Contextualizing elections into office in the democratization of control over the state and the economy;
“The transformation of INEC into a body that does more than umpires elections; it must have the power to protect the rules that define elections and that govern electoral activities.

“The parties must constitutionalise their competitions for power.
This last proviso is the kernel of the problem. The President Jonathan has given firm promise about the 2011 elections reforms.


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