ENFORCING INTERNAL DEMOCRACY IN POLITICAL PARTIES
The recent recommendation of a seven-man committee that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should devise measures to force political parties to abide by their constitutions and implement their manifestoes could not have come at a better time.
This is owing to the fact that adherence to party constitutions and implementation of party programmes have been at their lowest ebb in recent years. Internal democracy is now routinely trampled on in the parties, with party leaders behaving like tin gods and riding roughshod over the constitutions, which should be their guiding documents, and the manifestoes, which represent their pact with the people.
The committee that came up with this recommendation is the Registration and Elections Review Committee (RERC) raised in August 2011 by INEC to evaluate the conduct of the 2011 voter registration exercise and the April elections. The body, while presenting its report to INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, last Thursday, also charged the electoral body to quicken its internal restructuring and strengthen its capacity to conduct free and fair elections in the country.
The committee chairman, Prof. Adele Jinadu, lamented the nation's party system which is characterised by deficit democratic culture and grave assault on party constitutions that weaken foundations of electoral governance in the country.
It advised the electoral body to further explore its regulatory and oversight powers over party political activities and finances to encourage the institutions to partner it in improving electoral governance, especially the conduct of free elections in the country.
Lack of internal democracy and adherence to party constitutions have always been a problem among the nation's political parties. This has been glaring in willful imposition of candidates to fly the flags of the parties in elections. The problem has been as clear in the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the other parties. There is usually no serious attempt by the parties to obey their own constitutions or implement their manifestoes.
The recommendation of this committee, if accepted and implemented, will go a long in strengthening INEC to enforce discipline in the parties and make them abide by their constitutions and implement their manifestoes, which should be their guiding documents.
Party constitutions, ordinarily, enunciate the principles on which the institutions are built. The manifestoes represent their agreement with the people. They state what the parties are to be known for and the activities they will engage in. Their major programmes and plans are encapsulated in these documents, but their contents are observed more in the breach.
When elected candidates get to office, they no longer refer to their party manifestoes, which now appear to be just one of the devices for winning elections. That is why Nigerians cannot say that this is what any party stands for. People do not know what party manifestoes are and the parties themselves do not take the documents serious.
The parties do not obey their own constitutions. Constitutions of parties specify how parties should be run, who qualifies for electoral offices and the procedures for emergence of candidates and party leaders. These rules are not followed. That is why we now talk of imposition of candidates that has threatened the electoral process in many states.
Candidates who are miffed at the willful breach of their party constitutions decamp to other parties. There are also cases of long litigation in courts on issues of party candidates, thereby wasting resources and the time of the courts. Parties routinely bungle their primaries, one of the recent examples being that of the PDP in Bayelsa State.
INEC is helpless in all these because there are no rules to enforce internal democracy in the parties, or make the organisations abide by their constitutions and manifestoes. It is, therefore, good that the Registration and Election Review Committee has come up with this proposal at this time.
We support the recommendation. It will help take care of the administration of party conventions, and the conduct of elected candidates in political offices.
We advise that this recommendation be incorporated in the Electoral Act, and ultimately, in the Nigerian Constitution. It will help INEC to regulate parties to ensure that they do the right thing.
The power to enforce this, and make elected candidates implement manifestoes of their political parties, will go a long way in ensuring the benefits of democracy for the people.