Monday, May 25, 2009

The fallacy in automatic ticket

AUTOMATIC ticket simply means that those who are occupying an executive elective position - Presidents, Governors and Council Chairpersons - are automatically re-nominated to run for a second term at the expiry of their first term. And in our system this is usually for positions that have a two-term constitutional limitation. My thesis in this article is that everything is wrong with this idea of automatic ticket. It is anti-democratic and also anti-party. Let me explain why.

First, our constitution creates for all citizens the right to vote and be voted for. To run for an office is to exercise a constitutional right to be voted for. To ask for automatic ticket is to monopolise the right to be voted for, and by implication deny other citizens and equally legitimate political aspirants, that right.

The question then is why should we allow any one person to exercise that monopoly? The only justification for that is if it can be shown that it is in the public interest to allow such a monopoly. Any serious democracy takes the position that it is in the public interest when allowing such a monopoly on the given occasion confers collective benefit on the people. This is usually the case when the person claiming the monopoly has performed so well in public office that his or her constituency can attest to that performance by the popularity rating he or she enjoys in the constituency. In that case, if you field any other person for an election in the constituency, this other person will be defeated.

In other words, a person who qualifies for that monopoly must be one who because of his or her stellar performance in the first term of public office should be the constituency's preferred choice. And proof of this credible performance is that the person will win in a primary election, which is a party's internal mechanism for allowing its rank and file membership to choose who should represent them in a general election. This is why credible - free and fair - primaries are such a good instrument for democratic choice of candidates for prospective elections. If you think you are a miracle president, governor or council chairman in your first term, rather than go around hustling for automatic nomination, go and prove your claim to good performance by winning in a credible primary. It is as simple as this!

But why do some of our people run away from the primaries test? There are two reasons: One is that some of our political leaders do not have strong commitment to democratic practices. They mouth democracy but they do not play democracy. They want to boast of being popularly elected but they do not hesitate to rig the election to get there. Therefore all those who ask for automatic ticket show a poor commitment to democracy. And because it is against the public interest to allow it, a democratic party leadership should disallow it by insisting that all aspirants for public office - whether first term or second term - should go for the party's primaries.

The second reason why some people run away from primaries is that the party leadership who organises these primaries may make a mockery of these primaries by denying them transparency. Thus, primaries may become unpopular either because they are rigged by the aspirants themselves to promote their inordinate ambition for power or they are rigged by the party leadership for their favoured candidate by denying level playing field to all the contestants. But the solution to all these is not to run away from primaries but to insist on making them credible.

Moreover, since the constitution of the party (in this case, the PDP) insists on primaries, it means that all those who are asking for automatic ticket are swinging against the interest of the party. Automatic ticket, which seeks to by-pass primaries is against the constitution of the party. This means that the proponents of automatic ticket are anti-party. But they hurt the interest of the party in another more fundamental sense by seeking to deny all other interested party members the right to contest for office. This creates disaffection in the party and provokes some original strong believers in the party to leave the party because of the injustices inherent in denying them the constitutionally guaranteed right to be voted for, that is, contest for office.

Automatic ticket hurts the interest of the party in still another sense: by protecting the contestant from proving himself/herself in the popularity test represented by primaries, the party risks losing the election by fielding an unpopular candidate. Let us not forget that the most important function of a political party is to compete for the power to govern, and it is only by winning election that it can acquire the power to govern. Therefore fielding unpopular candidate through automatic ticket exposes the party to the danger of losing the election and defeating her interest in acquiring the power to govern. If proponents of automatic ticket remember that they are contributing to the defeat of their party in election, then they should regard themselves as bad party men and women - men and women who for their personal greed for power work against the interest of the party. They err by putting their personal desire for power above the capacity of the party to win the power to govern.

But the concept of automatic ticket has a slightly different ring when applied to legislators or members of the National Assembly. Under our 1999 Constitution, legislators are not limited to two terms. In fact they are supposed to go on as long as they can win elections. So while not speaking the language of automatic ticket to them, they are nevertheless encouraged to go on for more terms. There are at least two reasons for this.

One, making good laws requires experience, knowledge and skills. These are properties that are developed over time. The more terms a legislator serves the more effective he or she is in developing the skills required for good legislation. Therefore, it is good for the system to encourage legislators to deepen their legislative skills by running for more than one term.

Second, because of the incessant military disruption of our political order, our legislators have not had the experience of historical continuity in their legislative experience. This makes our legislature the least developed of the three branches of government. Therefore, in order to help our legislature develop more experience we should decrease the turnover in our legislatures by encouraging the members to run for more terms so as to acquire more legislative skills and experience. This does not translate to automatic ticket though! All it means is that the political party should encourage legislators who have shown promise to go on to run for more terms so that the legislature will benefit from their accumulated experience over many terms.

This is the spirit behind the PDP leadership's declarations of support for members of the National Assembly to go for more than one term. This is different from automatic ticket. What is involved here is to attempt to decrease the turnover in the legislature by encouraging members to go beyond one or two terms. And of course, it is expected that those to benefit from this support will be those who have performed well as first or second term legislators. It will be recalled that the previous administration deliberately cut off otherwise effective legislators from going on for a second term for other self-serving political interests.

The present NWC wants to discourage the deliberate attempt by party hierarchy to cut short the number of terms of legislators. It rather wants to encourage legislative longevity for members of the National Assembly. Therefore every aspirant that meets the minimum requirement stated in the constitution and manifesto of the party should be nominated for re-election only after their participation in the primaries. This is consistent with democracy and the interest of the party. But legislators who show strong promise by their performance should be encouraged to go on for more terms. This helps to promote the institutional development of the legislature. This does not mean that they will not go for primaries. This, however, creates a challenge for the party to device ways of monitoring and evaluating the performance of elected lawmakers.

Commitment to democracy means willingness to live with its results even when they do not favour us. The greatest threat to our democracy comes from our political elite. These are the people who place their desire for power over and above democratic tenets and practices. That is why when they are in office they do not use their position to advance the frontiers of democracy. They come round to shouting democracy only when they lose power and can become victims of tyranny. They do not like democracy when they are in power because democracy tends to restrain their arbitrary exercise of power. They do not like that restraint on their power, but they come to value the restraint when another person is wielding power against them.

Automatic ticket is anti-democratic. It is neither in the public interest nor even in the interest of the party. But it continues to be the swan song of politicians whose greed for power runs ahead of their party and public interest. These breed of politicians have little or no commitment to democratic principles and practices. They only pay lip service to democracy.