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Echoes of Two-Party System 17 Years After [analysis]
[May 19, 2010]

Echoes of Two-Party System 17 Years After [analysis]

May 19, 2010 (Daily Trust/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- Many condemned it as a restrictive system designed by the military to limit freedom of association among the people but barely 17 years after its abolition the two-party system of democracy is rearing its head again in the ongoing electoral reform. The system was introduced by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida-led military junta during the botched third republic.

Those seeking elective positions were restricted to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), two parties established and funded by the then military government.

Many criticised the system for the limited choice of parties and ideologies, especially as it was the military that drafted the manifestos and set up all structures for the parties. All that was required of individuals seeking to participate in the political system was to register as members of one of the two parties. The NRC and SDP existed like agencies under the military junta which appointed party officials and determined those that qualify to seek political office.

The system was however less cumbersome and provided vibrant political landscape that led to keenly contested elections. Parties in power were kept on their toes by strong opposition from the other equally strong party. In the end, the two-party system produced what was un-arguably the freest and fairest election ever in the half a century history of the country.

The June 12, 1993 presidential election which was a product of two-party system and the option A4 voting pattern was adjudged by both local and international observers as an unprecedented success in Nigeria's democratic experiment. But after the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, believed to have been won by late Chief Moshood Abiola of the SDP, the agitation for a more open party system resurfaced. The military government of the late General Sani Abacha opened up the political landscape by dumping the two-party system for multi-party democracy. By the time democratic rule was restored in 1999 the number of parties participating in the democratic process continued to swell by the day.

Presently, there are about 60 political parties in the country with some only springing to life when it is time to claim statutory grants from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Of all the political parties in the country, only six have at least a state governor, while the National Assembly have members from only four political parties. Over 50 existing political parties have no representation at any level. As the number of parties increase, opposition to the majority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) weakens and chances of any other smaller political parties winning elections diminish by the day. This has raised concern among the political class.

The ongoing electoral reform therefore provides an opportunity for a change. Recently, the Former Governors Forum (FGF) started lobbying members of the National Assembly to push for a return to the two-party system. The former governors also want the proposed system including option A4 to be adopted in the electoral reform in order to form the basis for future elections in the country.

Speaking when they made presentation to the Senate Committee on Review of the Constitution (SCRC), leader of the FGF, former Akwa Ibom governor, Obong Victor Attah said the multi-party system is too unwieldy to be able to promote a self sustaining democratic polity for the country. He said "The proliferation of political parties weakens the polity and invariably promotes a one-party system. For instance, the PDP has become the only dominant national party because of the inability of other parties to grow beyond their regions or states. The present system where most parties in the country do not exist beyond their registration certificates does not create an effective opposition, which is the bedrock of democracy." In his response, Chairman of the SCRC, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu rejected the FGF's proposal saying it is in breach of the provision for freedom of association in the constitution. The proposal is therefore very unlikely to pass in the Senate.

However, the FGF's position is gaining grounds in the House of Representatives where several members have spoken in support of the two-party system. During debate on the electoral act, several members argued that the multi-party system has weakened the polity by creating a single strong party while all others remain as mushroom political organisations existing only by the grace of INEC's grants.

Apparently in support of the FGF position, leader of the opposition in the House, Rep. Mohammed Ali Ndume while contributing to the debate said the multi-party system is capable of leading Nigeria to sectional politics where few individuals from particular areas or tribes float political parties simply to push for selfish and divisive ideologies.

His position garnered support of several other members that cut across party lines. Due to the momentum being gathered by the proposal, Speaker Dimeji Bankole resolved that members continue consultations with colleagues and constituents before Tuesday when they are expected to vote on the matter. Though the FGF position on two-party system was not accepted in Senate, the Red chamber had adopted a provision capable of dissolving several of the inactive political parties in the country. During debate on the general principles of the Electoral Act bill, it was proposed that parties must henceforth sustain themselves financially as INEC will no longer provide them with funds. It is clear that without INEC's grants, the number of parties in the country will gradually decrease to below ten within two years and possibly less than five in the nearest future. It is likely to witness mergers and acquisitions between political parties akin to what is now usual in the financial sector. Aside stopping INEC funds, the new electoral law will also provide for closer monitoring of sources of funds and expenditure of all parties by the electoral umpire.

As the debate for return to two-party system takes centre stage again after 17 years of its abolition, observers await the resolution of the National Assembly on the matter. Adoption of the system could streamline the political landscape in 2011 where only two parties would sponsor candidates to contest alongside independent candidates for elective posts. It may lead to a stiffer contest between a very strong coalition of opposition parties against the ruling PDP.

Should this happen, the PDP is sure to lose grip on the polity as the opposition will pull its forces together to give a good fight rather than the dissipated energies they presently exert. Imagine a PDP presidential candidate contesting against another candidate produced by a coalition of all the other parties that form the Coalition of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP). Knowing the implication, it is little wonder that most vehement antag

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