opinionBy Justin Ambago Ramba
Many still believe that the lack of unity remains a leading cause of the political instability in the nascent state of South Sudan. But this shouldn't be taken to mean that South Sudan political parties have no history of ever coming together in the presence of an important purpose.
An example in case here is when all the two dozen or so different political parties were quick to unify under the umbrella of the All South Sudan Political Parties Forum for the purpose of the Self Determination referendum. It was this unity of purpose that paved the way for the smooth conduction of the January 2011 plebiscite that eventually led to the Independence from the Khartoum based Islamic government.
Nonetheless it is worth pointing out here that although the many small opposition parties are often willing and ready than not to join the ruling SPLM in finding out common grounds needed to navigate the difficult political and socioeconomic paths which the country found itself stalling through, it is unfortunate that these readiness and willingness have been largely taken for granted by the SPLM and at times they have been out rightly misunderstood as a sign of weakness, obviously driven by the grandiosity of being the party that waged the liberation war.
What followed after the January 2011 referendum was and is in fact inconsistent with the anticipated reaction from the SPLM especially in the light of the plebiscite's outcome. As if to remind the other opposition parties about how they [SPLM] intent to not only marginalize these parties, but also to adopt an NCP version of mock democracy, the SPLM immediately resorted to what can be referred to as the "muzzling politics". In so doing it went on to unilaterally impose a widely rejected transitional constitution on the country in defiance of all the concerns raised by the other political parties, the civil societies and the women's associations.
Today this embattled and a rightly controversial constitution has plunged the country into a lot of political and socioeconomic chaos. This constitution is better known for the fact that it gave the country's president a free hand in almost everything in the country. It is sad to recall that in a country that claims to respect the choice of the people, a handpicked SPLM dominated constitution committee members went on and gave the Head of the State an unquestionable right to dismiss elected State Governors, without necessarily having to publicly state out the reasons behind such a decision.
Today the Lakes State is the first to experience such a presidential move when H.E issued his infamous decree that dismissed the State's first ever elected governor from office. Tomorrow it will be either another elected state governor or an elected MP, and since all are meant to be taking place in the name of constitutionality, then who is out there to challenge it?
To confirm the above point and to the disappointment of those citizens who took to the streets of Rumbek Town, the state capital to demonstrate in protest of the decree, together with those opinion writers who criticized it in the various media outlets, it didn't take long before the SPLM dominated National Legislative Assembly [NLA] in Juba came out openly as usually is the case and rubber stamped the dismissal of the elected governor.
Precisely it has now become the pattern in the new country of South Sudan that any crude decision ever uttered by the Head of State which is often done in the absence of any broader consultations, will always receive a rubber stamp blessing from this good for nothing, SPLM dominated National Legislative Assembly in Juba.
First they approved the Transitional Constitution in spite of all the undemocratic articles that were intentionally insinuated in the document with the sole intent of giving the the president, his executive and kitchen cabinets the uncontested upper hand in the country's politics.The same parliament was quick to approve the relocation of the country's capital to a certain swampy Ramciel without any tangible technical or financial considerations. It [NLA] was as well supportive
of the unstudied shutdown of the country's only source of revenue - the Oil Industry, without setting in place a plan B, hence the current economic dilemma.
This same parliament as if to confirm its rubber stamp nature, it went on to take a lukewarm stand on the Panthou [Heglig] war and its aftermath. It was also quick to endorse the 27th September normalization Agreement with the Sudan in the absence of any real commitment from either government.
Putting these entire behavior patterns together one can NEVER miss seeing how the SPLM dominated National Legislative Assembly has become a tool in the hands of President Salva Kiir Mayardit for approving wrong policies in the country. Thus any attempt to correct the status quo must start by fully holding to responsibility these MPs and the NLA as an Institution for their roles in promoting the current state of bad governance, impunity, corruptions, embezzlements and lawlessness.
Although all the above may be obvious for most South Sudan citizens to see, yet there are other hidden disasters to which both the SPLM leadership as represented in the government and those good for nothing NLA - MPs are parties to.
The most worrying and likely to reflect negatively on the political process in the country is none other than the South Sudan Political Parties Act - 2012 which was signed into law by the president of the State on the 24th March 2012.
Every person who considers himself or herself as a South Sudanese intellectual, and a concerned citizen for that matter together with those so-called friends of South Sudan plus the best wishers must all have had a shock at this Political Parties Act document since it is more of a document formulated primarily to obstruct the realization of the much anticipated democratic transformation in the country.
This undoubtedly controversial document was frankly speaking prepared by the members of the SPLM party who dominate the Ministry of Legal Affairs, like it does with the rest of the ministries, then passed by the party loyalist who also dominate the cabinet of ministers and was finally blessed by the NLA as expected in the sole belief of making it impossible for any other political groups to register as legal political parties in the country.
Otherwise how do we interpret the following articles in the Act?
The following persons shall not be members of any Political Party:
(a) Members of organized armed forces and law enforcement agencies;
(b) Justices and judges of the Judiciary of South Sudan;
(c) Legal Advisors and Public Attorneys the Ministry of Justice;
(d) Civil Servants at all levels; and
(e) Diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Which of these are in actual fact applicable to the SPLM party itself? Are they really serious in what they have written for this country as Political Parties Act, in the absence of any line that separates the above mentioned categories from being not only loyalists, but frank members of the dominant SPLM party?
An equally important point to highlight here is, given the very high level of illiteracy in the country, and knowing very well that the above categories of citizens in fact constitute the bulk majority of the few educated people in the country, can it not be argued that by sidelining them from taking an active role in party politics is in fact to leave the entire political process to those who hardly read and write?
And below is how Political Parties shall be qualified to be registered if:-
I) It has recruited as members, not less than five hundred registered Voters from each of more than at least eight states;
ii) The members referred to in paragraph (a) reflect regional and ethnic diversity, gender balance, representation of minorities, youth and special category groups;
iii) The political party shall have in its national governing body at least one member from each state.
iv) The political party shall have branches in all ten states and is, in addition organized in not less than eight states.
v) The composition of its governing body reflects regional and ethnic diversity, gender balance and representation of minorities and special category groups;
vi) It has demonstrated that members of its governing body meet the requirements of the Constitution and the laws relating to ethics;
vii) Observes democratic principles in its political activities and respect the peaceful transfer of power;
viii) The means of achieving its goals shall not include the establishment of paramilitary forces;
ix) Not engage in or incite violence or promote hatred among ethnic, religious or racial groups in the Republic of South Sudan; and
x) Not be a branch of any Political Party outside South Sudan.
The articles that regulate the registration of the political parties can be for discussion purposes categorized into two groups. The first group includes those from (I) to (v). These five subsections taken individually or together they all testify to a fact that the SPLM elements within the Ministry of Legal Affairs have undoubtedly and with a premeditated intention exerted a considerable effort to make the registration process of the opposition parties near to impossible.
The number of members in each state, and the minimal number of states required in this Act are not realistic for the realization of Multi-party Democracy in the country. And by the way who are those registered voters, in the absence of a national census yet to be conducted, constituencies yet to be decided and the voters themselves yet to be registered?
Again to insist that every ethnic group and all kinds of disabled categories of citizens MUST be compulsorily included in the membership of each and every political party sounded indeed strange for it clearly requests political parties to go out there and look for all these people whether they are politically active or not, let alone if then in fact they would want to join that particular party or its leadership.
The second group is from (VI) to (X). This particular group of articles is the very things that are lacking in the ruling SPLM party. These last five where frankly violated by the SPLM throughout the period from 2005 until this very moment of this writing.
Is the SPLM party [whose officials came up with this document] ever known to have observed any democratic principles since its inception in 1983 or does it respect the peaceful transfer of power within the party? Does it in achieving its goals NEVER got involved in the establishment of paramilitary forces? If it doesn't, then to whom do the killing squads in Juba and the other main towns belong to?
The SPLM may not be a branch of another political party outside South Sudan, but with the confirmation from the international community, including the US administration, and President Obama himself, all believe that the SPLM is still linked with the SPLM - North.
We heard the party denying that on more than one occasion, however although we would like to believe them yet we find it very weird why South Sudan's ruling party is still referring to itself as the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) at a time when the territory it now rules is no longer part of Sudan, but rather an independent country of South Sudan?
A big party like the SPLM now sixteen months after the Republic of South Sudan has gained its independence by a 98. 8% of its popular vote, people are left with unanswered question as to why this party that prides itself in having championed the liberation remains unwilling to change its name as if to undermine its South Sudanese reality.
But here we are. The people of South Sudan are unfortunately still forced to live under these SPLM contradictions as long as we continue to blindly follow their unpredictable, incompetent and often non transparent leadership's. They will continue to take us for granted and push ahead displaying their weird taste for politics that forms the core of every law that they hand down to us.
Some misleading apologists will tell you that this Political Parties Act for 2012 comes at a time where South Sudan is having over thirty or so political parties. But this isn't the case in the Independent South Sudan for all the common political parties that drew their membership from both the Southerners and the Northerners e.g. the NCP [Omer Bashir] - Umma [Saddig al Mahdi] - NIF [Hassan al Turabi] - PCP [Hassan al Turabi] - Sudan Communist Party - DUP [Al Mirghani], better known as the northern or national Sudanese political parties, have all ceased to exist in the new Republic of South Sudan..
With the exception of the SPLM parties, whichever political parties that exist to date in this new country are indeed indigenous in origin and agenda. And the fact that they insist to operate independently of the ruling & bulling SPLM deserves the appreciation of all those who cherish pluralism and multi-party democracy.
It may be important to involve the international community at some stage in order to assist with the formulation of the various bills that are needed to establish a democratic society in South Sudan; however the true responsibility should squarely lie with the South Sudanese. They have to be seen not only writing and reading articles about the realization of political pluralism in their country, but should also walk an extra mile of personal and group sacrifices in order to achieve this noble goal.
For how do we establish the tradition of using the ballot to peacefully transfer power, when the SPLM-formulated political parties Act clearly signifies an obstruction to multiparty democracy on one hand and lays the foundations for the emergence of a one party state under a totalitarian regime.
The problem here is that instead of establishing a ballot oriented system, under this infamous South Sudan Political Parties Act -2012, we may be gradually reverting to those times when bullets determine everything.
Does anyone in the absence of multi-party democratic system still doubt the possibility of the nascent country reverting to the old days of voting with rifles given the current state of affairs in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Western Bahr al Ghazal, Unity State coupled with the widespread disillusionment within the ranks and files of the SPLM and the SPLA? Is this so-called 2012 Political Parties Act not a clear recipe for the 'Jongleisation' of the whole country?
To save our country from these risky political uncertainties, we need to see to it that this so-called 2012 Political Party Act is immediately repealed and replaced by a set of laws free of any hidden agenda.
We need a new set of laws that should clearly allow for the easy establishment of political parties unlike the current Act which undoubtedly if not revoked will only promote the proliferation of regional, tribal and all kinds of militias, precisely as the only potential political outlets for the numerous disgruntled political groups.