PARTIES BEYOND POLITICS - PAT UTOMI
Unfortunately, our politics does not always follow democratic expectations. While all hands need to be on deck to make that change, a few needling issues with the partnership of the moment need reflection.
One of them is the limit of partisanship. The nature of traditional western Competitive partisan politics is adversarial, just like the law courts prosecutorial tradition. The sometimes unhealthy divisiveness of that tradition is the reason one argued for the one party starter in post Colonial Africa, to safeguard the unity of the colonially forged states with many centripetal forces puling at the core of its essence. All quickly found that the one-party state was an apologia for personal power and proved detrimental to the hopes and dreams of the struggle for emancipation from colonialism. So the fight for multiparty democracy became a cause célèbre across the continent.
Does the fact of an adversarial multiparty democracy mean not being able to see beyond partisanship to some shared values of an elite that puts Nigeria first? Look at how our Lawyers are using the excuse of the adversarial process to subvert justice and make decent people avoid being witnesses in pursuit of truth, because they do not want to go from witnesses to victims, on the excuse that it is part of the games of the adversarial nature of the process, and see how same is making partisanship so destructive of what should be for the good of all. But this need not be as we see from practice in those democratic cultures that have made adversarial partisanship the norm in the practice of Democracy.
Let us take notice, for example of how the United States foreign policy has profited from a tradition in which the Democrats have been traditionally cast as the liberal Doves and the Republicans as the Hawks. When America’s interests are better advanced by diplomatic, less militaristic disposition, the Democratic Party seems to be better favored while the opposite is the case, when America needs to exercise military might.
So in times when American’s need a party plank that is liberal and perhaps Keynesian in its economics, but people fear for safety in a world of military adventurism, Democratic Presidents have had the good sense to enhance confidence, by appointing Republican Defense Secretaries, as President Barrack Obama has done, even at a time when extreme partisanship is seen to have dominated the budget process.
The point is that bipartisan consensus, a convention of boundaries beyond which positions were considered anathema, and crossing party lines to appointing people who provide confidence to the system, are among ways those societies have checked the negatives of extreme partisanship. Yet none of these take away from the benefits of the spirit of competition on ideas and policies that are hotly canvassed along partisan lines on how to move society forward.
Part of the check on partisan competition that prevents the dynamics of process from the tendency towards extreme corners is the role of civil society and institutions of the establishment such as the judiciary, Think Tanks, and bodies like the Council of State, or Elders. For some reason there seems to be limited effectiveness of civil society in moderating the tendency to move partisan contestation for political office away from do or die and failure to collaborate on points of strength for advancing the Common Good.
The second moderating influence is clarity of what the party represent which then accentuate the strengths and weakness of the partisans in specific contexts. I am optimistic that the on-going efforts of the APC to define itself as left of centre, peoples entrepreneurial and justice focused party will cause the PDP to better define itself in a different direction and so move Nigeria to a desirable place on the spectrum where partisans who know where they are coming from and where they are going, can better compete and cooperate. Many of the goods of democracy will come from the competition of their partisanship, but some may come from their coopetition, (competing and cooperating at the same time) that might be necessary in certain contexts. These possibilities are easier when politics are about issues, values and ideology. Social conditions that have regards for the dignity of others also matter much in this regard.
My annual birthday reflections on the nature of man in society, this year focused on the virtue of forgiveness. It flowed from that of last year, on gratitude, should we learn to forgive one another, put yesterday, which adds little to tomorrow, behind, and live in a robust today with a generous human spirit, it will be easier to show difference without being spiteful, and to cross the party lines, on the national interest, without being seen as betraying the tradition of the party.
Another point here is how important the personal integrity of the players matter here. I recall visiting Washington during the Clinton years when a Republican Senator opted to become an independent, thus denying the party its thin majority. The following afternoon I went to lunch with an old friend who had worked in the Reagan White House, the same friend that invited me to the last Republican Convention in Florida and to dinner with New Jersey Governor Christie. The lunch was, understandably, at the Republican club. I got to chat with a few Republican Senators about what happened the day before. It was polite but you could tell how unhappy they were about it. Straight out of the lunch, my friend Michael, was driving me up to Union Station to catch the train to New York. As we approached the station an old man was walking across the lawn into the station. Michael jokingly said, I wish I could break his leg. All by myself, walking to catch a train, was the man who barely hours before had had tipped the scales in American politics, I could not believe he would be walking so care freely on the streets.
It said a lot for both the motivation and integrity of the man and the system. Come to think about it was was a left of centre Fabian socialist of the Third way like me doing in the company of Republicans all the time- guess it is the richness of principle centered democracy. PU
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