Saturday, May 29, 2010

Positive Lessons from UK 2010 Elections

United Kingdom, one of the world’s oldest democracies had its general elections on Thursday, May 6, 2010. The poll was to elect 650 parliamentarians into the House of Common. The election which took place in 649 constituencies failed to produce a clear winner as the Conservative Party which eventually dislodged the Labour Party from the 10 Downing Street failed to win the 326 seats it needed to singularly form a cabinet. This resulted to a hung parliament, first time since 1974 and second time since the end of the Second World War. In spite of the inability of the top three political parties’ viz. Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats to clinch an outright victory that will enable it form parliament, the political logjam was not allowed to linger. Within a week, Conservative party which had 306 seats was able to negotiate a coalition government with the Liberal Democrat party which had 57 seats. Labour party who had ruled for upward of 13 years and whose electoral fortunes dipped at the polls quickly acknowledged defeat as its party leader and immediate past Prime Minister, Gordon Brown resigned his position as both the PM and Labour Party leader thereby paving way for the formation of new coalition government which saw David Cameron of Conservative Party becoming the new Prime Minister of Britain and Nick Clegg of Liberal Democrats as Deputy Prime Minister. Swift was the power sharing agreement that it leaves no one in doubt that the national interest was put first and above any partisan interest.
That was one positive lesson Nigeria can learn from its former colonial master, Britain. Resolving the political stalemate was not unduly prolonged. Cabinet ministers were announced within 24 hours of the formation of the new government. In Nigeria, forming cabinet even in an election with a clear winner often take weeks and sometime months thus heating up the political temperature of the country as political gladiators engage in serious lobby either to make the cabinet or get their protégé on board.

Another example from the UK election is its peaceful nature. There was no assassination or kidnapping of any of the candidates. No ballot box snatching, no flawed voters register, no seat capture or any manipulation of the outcome of the election. There was also no political godfather or cabal claiming to have been responsible for the election of David Cameron as the new British PM. UK electorates wanted change and they got it through a simple civic exercise as voting. They filed out to cast their votes and their votes counted in the choice of their political leaders. This is worthy of emulation.
Yet another positive thing to note in the UK 2010 elections is the beauty of its multi-party democracy. United Kingdom and United States of America are sometimes cited as examples of two party democracies which neither of them are, at least by law. There are more than 2 parties in US beyond Democratic and Republican Parties, so also are there over twenty political parties in the UK. Though Labour and Conservative Parties are the best known, there were other political parties such as English Democrats, Respect-Unity Coalition, Green Party, Alliance Party, Christian Party, Scottish Socialist Party and UK Independence Party to mention a few. Half of the twenty political parties that contested the last UK elections won at least one seat with the Green Party winning its first seat in parliament. The issue here is that while other political climes are liberalising and expanding the political space, Nigeria is toying with the idea of reducing the current 57 registered political parties to between 2 and 5.

I do not support this move. Political parties as critical pillar of democracy should be allowed to live or die naturally based on their electoral fortunes. What political parties in Nigeria need is effective supervision by the Independent National Electoral Commission whose constitutional responsibility it is to enforce political party compliance with electoral code and party guidelines. Once erring political parties are appropriately sanctioned, there will be sanity in party administration. Worth noting is the British culture of civilised political debate and opinion polling. There were at least three televised political debates preceding the May 6 UK elections and the opinion poll which had earlier predicted a hung parliament holds true after the election.

By far the most positive lesson from the UK elections is the level playing field it guarantees for British citizens who are of mixed nationality. News report has it that three Nigerians won seats into the House of Common while about 15 others won councillorship positions. The three British Member of Parliament of Nigerian descent are Helen Grant of the Conservative Party who was elected in Maidstone & The Weald in the south east of England; Chi Onwurah of the Labour Party who was elected the new MP for Newcastle Central in the north east; and Chuka Umunna, also of Labour, elected to represent Streatham in south London.

These Nigerians in Diaspora join 24 other minority MPs. The new faces include the first three Muslim women to win parliamentary seats, one of whom is also the first Bangladeshi MP. In addition, the Conservative Party has its first two Muslim MPs and its first Asian female MP. The number of women elected to Parliament also increased from 126 to 142, although women now make up only 22 per cent of MPs. It is noteworthy that the doctrine of indigene versus settler which is one of the centrifugal forces tearing Nigerian politics apart was not allowed a role in British elections. UK is indeed United Kingdom. My hearty congratulations to Helen, Chi and Chuka, Nigerian worthy ambassadors to Britain.