SPLM: The Prospect of Transformation
March 11, 2013
As the SPLM gears up for its Third National Convention, many questions will surely be asked about the SPLM’s overall performance (???) since it became a political party and the restructuring required to put in motion the vision for the next phase. While this will for sure put the party on the pedestal of transformation, a much required element in the development of the SPLM, the question of accountability within the ranks of the party is yet to be translated into action, given the wide perceptions of unresponsiveness of the regime to changes from within. Thus, creating a transparent and responsive political machine that is different will continue to be a challenge. Addressing these challenges will do much to sustain SPLM’s monopoly on power for some time to come; however, this cannot happen until a complete attitudinal change takes place from within in order to meet the recognized ideals of the party. While this is obvious, there are other elements of the transformation that remains wanting for those, from within, who wish to establish a credible political party. Hence, steps taken now are crucial in establishing a sound grounding against the backdrop of the failures of the last seven years.
A good place to start from for the SPLM is the draft constitution and manifesto of the SPLM of 2008, which is currently under review to be adopted at the 3rd National Convention or the Extra-Ordinary Convention for the restructuring the party. Though full of ideals for democratic transformation, one constant that has piqued interest is the centralization of the party’s powers and structures (at both state and national levels).
The SPLM as a party, is a national behemoth, which at its current structure, is ungovernable, and cannot be controlled from the Centre. Thus, the centralization of powers of the party in one hand, at both national and state levels, is too big a task to undertake. Why? The current structure of the SPLM is fashioned as a politico-military organization under which a single command structure is required. This type of structure favors a strong man at the top and the rest of the institution of the party is beholden to the center, leaving the grassroots of the party void and lacking the ability to inform the political discourse at the center. This type of party structure engenders a political entity that is controlled at top, but lacks clear and transparent institutions of accountability to the larger group. Central to this notion is that the Chairman alone holds the key to any real change within the system, regardless of what the party members may perceive to be important. In this kind of a structure, the political maturation and transformation is spread thin, which only leaves one person to be responsible and accountable but at the same time uninformed about the needs of the local (States, Counties, Bumas and Payams) structures. This then hinders the prospect of democratic transformation in the party and by extension, the government/nation, since the powers of both are fused together. The recent sacking of the Governor of Lake State gives a glaring example of the far-reaching powers of the executive in effecting change at lowers levels of government without much consultation. A process, though granted in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan of 2011, but its actual application calls into question the ambition of having a democratic institutions, where other organs of the state are rendered meaningless.
Thus, to be much more effective in implementing its grand ideals and programs, the SPLM Committees working on the transformation need to completely overhaul the party structures. The national wing of the party and the states Secretariats must be separate entities to allow for the party to focus on building a truly national brand, and a truly democratic national political movement/institution. As well, the states parties can form their regional identities, outside of the national party identity. The separation is crucial to building a more representative identity for the party, as it will allow for less “crowding out” effect at the top brass level of the party, such as what is being perceived to have been happening since its inception, and with pronounced effect from 2005 onward.
This separation between SPLM National and SPLM States does not mean that the National party will not have structures at the states level. It will continue to have national structures at the states level but administrative structures of the SPLM National level should act as independent entities within states, far removed from the political programs of the states. This will allow the party to focus on national issues as well as shed itself from the responsibility of controlling everything at the States level. This will also allow State Parties to form their own entities, develop different political platforms and programs that represent the need of the states, instead of working on the grand proposals at the national level that are far removed from disparate needs of the diverse regions of South Sudan.
Along the same thinking, new generation of leaders will be allowed to spring forward from different regions at the states level that can be able to vie for states or national leadership. As well, with the separation between the national and states political parties, the national SPLM Party will be able to focus attention in addressing the national agenda and leaving the local policy developments to local state parties.
The SPLM leadership at the national level can and must work hard to strengthen the legislative and judicial organs of the government by providing it with constitutional cover/powers to apply existing laws at the state and national level. Because the reason why the other organs of the system are not working is not because they are only lacking capacity; they are lacking the backing of the executive to act within their purview, granted under the Transitional Constitution. Capacity can be built within the system overtime, through oversight, knowledge transfer and training.
The SPLM can do this in order to allow for pluralization and democratization that it has enshrined into its manifesto and political programs. Having such ideals and not utilize it for the maximum interest of the party is akin to discussing transformation, but in reality working to monopolize the political space, without looking inward for self-reflection. Ignoring this crucial element of transformation, the SPLM as a party, will continue to be a cause of displeasure amongst the electorate, who have moved on from celebrating the independence to expecting results of the peace dividends and democratic constitution.