SPLM Independent Candidates (IDC's) add taste to what would have been a dull electioneering process
Elections can be exciting only if they promise change for the better. It is very rare that citizens rush to any polls in order to maintain the status quo, especially given the glaring shortcomings of sort seen in the current government of South Sudan (GOSS). Any election whose outcomes can be predicted with certainty and precision is anything but interesting.
There is no doubt that there will be those amongst South Sudanese who would argue that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”- meaning we better cling to the disappointing status quo than trusting our future in the hands of candidates not blessed by the SPLM’s leading body. However, humanity would be condemned to backwaters of unbearable political stagnation if great majority of free nations were to subscribe to such a reactionary mantra.
Yet, paradoxically enough, the majority of candidates blessed by the SPLM political bureau (SPLM PB) are those who have supervised over a government that has delivered pitiful socio-economic dividend to South Sudan at a price of five. Namely, the patchy services the current government of South Sudan prides itself in are incomparable to the billions dollars of oil money spent and five years in the office. All things being equal, a different composition of the SPLM government could have delivered far better peace dividends given same resources, power, and time.
I believe many South Sudanese will view the current debate on the right of SPLM independent candidate to contest against the candidates that have been hand-picked by SPLM PB, through the lenses of giving people more opportunities to elect into power better change-makers than the narrow menu of “yes men and women” being offered by SPLM political bureau (PB).
There are 340 in total SPLM candidates contesting independently (IDCs), including 6 contesting for positions of governors in Upper Nile, Jonglie, Eastern Equatoria, Unity, Central Equatoria, and Northern Bhar El Ghazal States. In a move that made National Congress Party (NCP) looks more like a saint in tackling the issue of independent candidates in the party, SPLM PB met on 16 February in Juba and issued a brave statement declaring an automatic end of SPLM membership for all those candidates insisting on going it alone without the SPLM PB’s stamp of approval. A painful shot in the foot for the party’s ruling minority clique.
On their part, a leading SPLM independent candidate, Alfred Ladu Gore, and an advisor to President of Government of South Sudan on diplomatic affairs, described SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, as a failure and demanded his resignation. And as the electoral campaign kicked off over South Sudan, many independent candidates have already reported incidents of harassment from the very government dominated by their own party.
In Northern Bhar El Ghazal, a rally organised by the independent candidate general Dau Aturjuong was dismantled by the police and security intelligence on the behest of governor Paul Malong Awan. In Bantiu, Angelina Teny rally was harassed by police and yet managed to address some 1,200 supporters who turned up at a stadium.
What we see taking place in SPLM is not new. The party historically has never embraced meritocracy as the main criterion for creating leaders in its ranks. More often than not, personal preferences, favouritism, and other hard to account for factors contributed to rise of many of current SPLM leaders to position of power. Independent thinking or pure individual competence have never been the main ladders to power positions in SPLM. In fact, independent thinking and individual competence had contributed to falling out of a very significant number of SPLM members with the leadership. Thus, the action of SPLM PB against party’s independent candidates is precisely to maintain the status quo: everything stays the same.
And as GOSS President Slava Kiir Mayardit campaign’s trail sets off today, the onlookers could hardly fail to notice that it was without his deputy, Dr. Riek Machar Teny. And without a shred of doubt, this election journey has started on a wrong footing for Salva Kiir Mayardit, given the controversy the selection process has already sparked, which is aggravated further by the repressive actions of police and security forces in South Sudan against independent candidates as well as against candidates of other political parties. Skeptics may view this as setting the scene for a likely “Karazaic election” in April in South Sudan. A bad prospect for a government to be borne out of such controversy.
Already, the incumbent SPLM government has lost many teeth to this early democratic exercise as party’s democratic credentials wear thin in the face of competition from within and from without. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many teeth would be left at the end of this campaign trail, under the current SPLM PB stewardship.
In one way or the other, a political change is being set in motion, whether SPLM PB likes it or not. The independent candidates have added a sweet taste to what would have been a predictable and dull electioneering. They are a dim hope in dark skies of political stagnation.
Many SPLM faithfuls (and indeed South Sudanese citizens dreaming for a change of guards) are now pining hope on independent candidates (IDC's) to end the domination of SPLM PB by a self-serving clique.
Most likely, the IDC's will give SPLM PB a bleeding nose, and hopefully, bring about the long awaited change within the party.