Monday, August 03, 2009

Unwieldy number of political parties

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently registered four new political parties, thus bringing the total number to 54. The commission says it is yet considering the applications of some others for registration.

The new parties which joined the existing 50 are United National Party for Nigeria (UNPN), National Movement of Progressive Party (NMPP), Kowa Party (KP), and Peoples for Democratic Change (PDC).

INEC acted within the ambit of the law by registering the political parties, as an extant court ruling forbids the commission from withholding due recognition to any aspiring party, as long as such meets the laid down rules and regulations. One can hardly, therefore, lay the blame for the unwieldy number of parties at the doorstep of INEC.

However, INEC itself will admit the herculean task of conducting elections in one day, with a largely illiterate electorate. To identify the logo of the parties was a problem, and votes were either unwittingly cast for the wrong parties, or invalidated outright. Now, with the growing number of parties, there is really cause for worry.

By the end of the last general election, it was crystal clear that a large number of the 50 political parties were mushrooms, as they could not acquit themselves creditably at the polls. Many did not even present candidates for key positions, while those who did, performed perilously. Shouldn’t we then have a natural process of weeding out incompetent political parties? Shouldn’t those who score below a certain percentage of votes then exist as just political associations, and not full-blown parties?
There is the suspicion that some parties have emerged simply to collect the take-off grant due to them by law, and after that, withdraw into their shells till the next grant is due.

This is unconscionable, and will do our democracy no good. Our democracy, despite turning 10 years recently, is in dire need of depth and growth. Having weak, puny parties, proliferating all over the place, will not help the process.

Again, having these ineffective, paperweight parties, gives undue influence to the leviathan Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the much vaunted largest party in Africa, to dominate the political space unduly. Can’t these smaller groups all coalesce into one main party, which can then become a worthy opposition to the PDP? The onus is on our politicians and fledgling parties to take up the gauntlet. Unless they get their acts right, the PDP will continue to ride rough shod, bestriding the political landscape like a colossus, and make good its vow to rule the nation for at least 60 years.

A cursory look at the 54 parties we now have, and even their nomenclatures, indicates a lack of seriousness. Some of the names are not creative, and already shows a lack of seriousness on the part of the promoters. Should we then be saddled with such, willy-nilly? It is not too late to amend the electoral reforms bill before the National Assembly to put in provisions, which will naturally whittle down the number of parties, based on performance at the polls. Freedom to exist as parties cannot be absolute, and there must equally be freedom to let the weak parties die, so that the political space is not just clogged up for no reason.

Our aspiring political parties should realise that they can still make impact on the system without necessarily being a distinct party. They can look for existing ones, which share their philosophy, and prosecute their agenda on such platform.
Can’t we even categorize our parties according to their strengths, and allow them to run for elections, based on such? Some large democracies do this, and we may tinker with our electoral laws to allow same. Democracy needs a lot of work to grow, and must apply ourselves scrupulously to it. Let’s have an audit of the 50 parties that existed as at the last elections, and let’s know those who are worth their salt, and those who should yield their space for new entrants.