For a group that once flaunted itself as Africa’s largest political party and held power for an unbroken period of 16 years in the continent’s biggest democracy, few should be surprised at the on-going altercations in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since it lost the March 28 presidential election. Losing in any game is never a pleasant experience, more so in the game of power politics.
Post-election blues are nothing new in most democracies. Parties want to cling to power for as long as they can, and when they lose, excuses are never in short supply. Recrimination and counter-recrimination usually become rife among members. While some blame the party functionaries for poor mobilisation of the electorate, others blame government functionaries for not performing well enough to endear the party to the voters. These are to be expected. But a wise party must know where to draw the line.
After Britain’s Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher performed poorly in a number of by-elections in the late 1980s, there broke out an internal crisis within the Conservative Party. Many members were no longer impressed with Prime Minister Thatcher’ leadership of the party in the run up to the general election. She had held office for more than a decade and seemed to have run out of new ideas, unlike the party’s main challenger, the Labour Party led then by the young and effervescent, Mr. Tony Blair. Surprisingly, Thatcher’s most outspoken opponents included some of his top cabibet ministers. They demanded her resignation as party leader or else she would be ousted in the next Conservative Party conference. The anti-Thatcher group was pitted against her staunch supporters. There were allegations and counter allegations against the Prime Minister. Political pundits predicted that that would spell doom for the Conservstive Party, going into the next general election. Thatcher was forced to resign in 1990 and was replaced by John Major, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) who went on to become the country’s Prime Minister. But the Conservative Party lost to Labour Party in the 1997 general election, thus leading to Mr. Tony Blair’s long reign as Britain’s Prime Minister.
Despite the internal recriminations that followed its loss at the polls, the Conservative Party soon put its house in order, becoming a formidable opposition. Today it is Britain’s ruling party and has been so for well over five years. Indeed, the party has just been re-elected, thanks to its doggedness and proper understanding of the true nature of power.
The PDP has something to learn from that. Although it had boasted that it would rule the country for 60 years, it must realise that that could only happen through the vote of the people. For now Nigerians have said no to the party. They want to try another party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since APC’s victory, there has been a series of defections from the PDP to the former. Such defections are really not necessary and will not help the country’s democracy. Those who have defected have only demonstrated that they are in politics for immediate material benefits. Whereas they cannot be stopped, ours being a country where freedom of movement and association is guaranteed by the Constitution, it must be noted that a weakened PDP is bad news for the proper development of our democracy.
Understandable as the post-election blues might seem, it must not be allowed to last too long. The leaders of the PDP must quickly rise beyond its current travails, and mobilise members for the serious task of playing the opposition. A seriously divided PDP cannot play that role effectively. The opposition is indeed the bedrock of every successful democracy. Where there is no viable opposition the ruling party may run amuck.
In this regard the APC deserves some credit for the robust opposition it has given to the ruling PDP. The PDP should therefore put its house in order by quietly examining the factors that led to its defeat in the last polls. Then it must stop the noisy bickering among its members. Having ruled the country for all of 16 years at a stretch, the party has so much experience to draw from in launching itself back to reckoning in the years ahead. The beauty of democracy is in the fact that real power lies with the voters. The PDP should remember that unless it is able to reconnect with the people through viable and responsible opposition from May 29 this year, its chances of retaking power in the near future may be remote.