Multi-party system is not worth the pain
By Michael Ndonye | October 23rd 2020
Kenya will live under the yoke of multi-partyism until we grow restless and throw it from off our necks. I am now convinced, after three decades of the system, that multi-party democracy is overrated. Multi-party crusaders were indubitably inebriated with political pop culture. They were looking for anything to bring down the one-party regime. It’s time for a paradigm shift.
President Moi was right when he warned that multi-partyism would open a can of worms, and the worms are all over us now. After 30 years, what we can show is endemic corruption, bad politics, ethnopolitical rivalry, political oligarchs in form of syndicated political coalitions and alliances and exorbitant general elections and systematic repairs like the ongoing BBI surgery.
Multi-partyism reigned supreme in the 1990s. It removed dictators such as Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia in 1991 and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in 1997. It also stifled Nigeria’s dictatorship of Sani Abacha until he died in 1998.
However, we must refuse to be comforted that multi-party democracy is the magical wand while we are forced to live in fear and trepidation every time an election nears.
Although the multi-party system is described as democracy at its best, it is strewn with weaknesses. The system advocates' claim that it offers equal rights and chances for all in an electoral system. However, such rights and chances hardly guarantee a single person or political party a chance to win elections.
The multi-party system also encourages unhealthy competition in politics. This is achieved through propaganda as there can’t be a healthy competition in politics. The parties’ agenda is reduced to celebrating the failure of their competitors while discrediting any visible achievement. Resultantly, the system fattens enmity between leaders and politicians, a situation that cascades down to wananchi.
Another conspicuous attribute of multi-partyism is its ability to curtail power-mongering by an individual leader or a political party. However, it forces coalitions or alliances of political oligarchs by a class of people, institutions, tribes and ethnic groups which results in organised power-mongering.
Importantly, under this system, the dictatorship of one party and one person is replaced by allied party oligarchs that can rule ad infinitum. In Kenya, for instance, no government has ever been formed since 1992 by a single party. They tried it in 1992 and 1997 and could not remove Kanu; it was the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) that seized power in 2002.
Given that coalition governments are weak and unstable, they don’t hold together for long. The Narc government of 2002-2007, the coalition government of 2008-2013, the Jubilee alliance government of 2013-2017, and later Jubilee Party of 2017-2022 are characterised by logjams. Due to constant instability, politicking, competition and disagreements within the governments, they cannot endure through their term. This stifles government business and service delivery because the country is always locked in a cycle of succession politics. A similar scenario already chokes the Jubilee government, and this has been the trend in countries like France, the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Greece.
Shockingly, multi-partyism is the breeding ground for voter bribery and corruption. This system is about survival for the fittest. Politics are designed to create a brand cult — either a party or a politician because of the visibility they get from them. Endorsements by such individuals and political parties give a direct assurance for victory. Thus, citizens have no liberty to decide leaders based on ideology, but horserace narratives.
It should also be known that multi-partyism creates and institutionalises opposition politics; that the system chief-priests say it checks the government. This, going by our experience, is a fallacy of all times. Mostly, opposition politics, lure and later frustrate civil society as they have high propensity to dine with the government. That’s why opposition politics in Africa should be killed after every election.
Moreover, since multi-party system election outcomes are too close to call, they are contestable. The pain of the ‘winner-takes-all’ system forces the runner-up to take advantage and reject election outcomes. Such contestations not only makes them more popular but can offer a chance for power-sharing deals. As such, the opposition thrives on discrediting electoral bodies and infrastructure and institutionalises the ‘votes are stolen’ culture. This way, there is a lot of voter apathy, and lack of confidence with institutions under multi-partyism.
Multiparty system elections are expensive for both parties and individuals. In addition, since representation is at the heart of the system, it is characterised by a bloated Executive and wage bills. Does all this sound familiar?
Dr Ndonye is a political economist of Media and Communication
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