Last week will go down in the annals of Rwanda’s political history as the week the nation’s two major opposition political parties competed to endorse a candidate for president from another party even before that party could officially nominate him.
On June 3, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) announced that it will line behind President Paul Kagame in the August presidential elections, and the following day, the Liberal Party (PL) followed suit.
PSD is considered the largest opposition party and PL the second on account that the former has seven MPs in parliament (having won 13 per cent of 53 directly elected MPs in the 2013 parliamentary elections) and the latter, five MPs (9.3 per cent) with the rest going to RPF and its coalition.
The endorsement means that with the exception of the four-year old Green Party (and possible one or two independent candidates), there is no other party that’s likely to field a candidate against Kagame.
The endorsement received mixed reactions. Some said that in endorsing Kagame, these parties’ leaders were voting with their stomachs as it ensures that after elections, they will get or retain their current jobs. Others argue that the vote confirms the weakness in these parties while others said it cements elite political consensus.
But to watchers of political developments, the decision isn’t surprising given that all leaders from these parties supported the 2015 referendum that led to the amendment of the constitution that gave Kagame a third term.
Strategically, the endorsement is neither good for these parties nor even RPF or nurturing competitive politics.
In order to understand why, we need not only to comprehend why parties are formed and the circumstances under which a party or parties may endorse a candidate from another party, but also the current standing of President Kagame.
Serious parties are formed to advance certain ideas and try to get power to implement them. Such parties may endorse a candidate from a rival party as a result of negotiation and prior agreement on which programme to advance and how power will be shared after elections.
Alternatively, a party may line up behind a candidate it knows will win as a tactic to gain his or her favour. Or, a party may simply support any strong candidate because it’s ideologically inept and its leaders only interested in jobs.
In the case of PSD and PL, their decisions may have been driven by weakness; ideological maladroitness; and awe for the incumbent. And since this support comes with few votes, a Machiavellian would have advised RPF to encourage these parties to field candidates not only to keep the spirit of competition, but mostly to let their man once again, defeat them decisively!
Yet, for me, I think that even in defeat, these parties would have been better off since, without flexing muscles, they have no way of keeping the spirits of their supporters high with the illusion that one day they will gain power.
As things stand now, and since followers of these parties know where RPF is located, they will start asking why they shouldn’t join it considering that their own leaders are singing the praise of its leaders.
Thus, while top leaders in these parties are assured of jobs beyond 2017, by 2024 when Kagame’s third term ends, they may not have any followers!
That said, the main consequence of the endorsement is consolidating the narrative of visionary leadership and consensus around the person of Kagame.
Hope and pride to the nation
The good thing is, whether one likes him or not, there is no denying that Kagame has brought hope and pride to the nation not only through security or presiding over sustained economic growth of over six per cent for over a decade but advocating impersonal access to services and opportunities.
By 2024, children born in 1994 will be 30 years old and those born 10 years before will be 40. This generation will then constitute the majority and will have been brought up in the post-ethnic political dispensation.
It’s therefore possible that by then, the traditional understanding of democracy as equal to ethnic majority developed in the pre-genocide years will have died and politics of ideas advanced by this new generation that has grown up in the information age taken root.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com