By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It is common knowledge that the constitution, which is the organic law of the land provides for citizens to freely “associate” in exercising some of their fundamental rights and that one of the areas in which citizens associate relates to the formation of political party, which is a useful instrument in seeking state power. These parties are expected to operate as institutions.
This is why Article 17(a) of the Liberian Constitution succinctly states, “Since the essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as by individuals, parties may freely be established to advocate the political opinions of the people. Laws, regulations, decrees or measures which might have the effect of creating a one-party state be declared unconstitutional.
It is in view of this and also in line with the multi-democracy that citizens and groups over the years have associated and organized political parties. But one of the problems associated with this over the years is the issue of support by members of that party. It has become a political culture that most of the parties only rely on a few, especially the main founders for the sustainability and the running of the parties. This situation has locally been referred to as “one-man show,” because those who associate with the party only look up to a few. In the time of election, focus is only on those who have declared their intention to contest elective posts.
Interestingly, when these parties ascend to national leadership, they flourish, apparently because members of its officials are in the status quo and positions to make some contributions to sustain the party. Disappointingly , when the party exits from the stage, it then find itself in a state of oblivion , as the party becomes very ineffective and can only be described as ‘living dead,” as there is no means of support anymore.
Few years ago, it was the grand old true Whig Party (TWP) that ruled this country for many years. After the 1980 coup came the late Samuel K. Doe’s National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), and after the Doe’s era, came the Charles Taylor National Patriotic Party (NPP). Presently, it is the Unity Party (UP) that ushered in the present government, headed by its standard bearer, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Don’t ask me what would be the fate of the UP after President Sirleaf.
Indisputably, it is an open secret that those former ruling parties are not as vibrant as they were while on the “stage,” as William Shakespeare, would say. This can be attributed to the fact that these parties did not exit as institutions, but as something that operated from the pockets of a few or the founders. That is, the supporters or partisans were not made to contribute, lest to talk about membership dues, to the upkeep and running of the party.
Today, I try to reflect on this issue regarding the operation of political parties to bring to focus the DOLLAR-RALLY launched by the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) as a means of generating funds for some of the operations of the party. Perhaps, the party has realized that it must operate as an institution supported by its partisans or well well-wishers.
Whether or not the party would achieve its objective in this regard, is another thing, as people are not used to making contributions to political parties because they feel that those who seek political offices through the party should be the exclusive contributors to the running and the upkeep of the party. Notwithstanding, I see this as a complete departure from the old-aged culture of political parties only being financially vibrant and solid , and moreover can even construct or rent only when they are in power.
Not only are these parties not operational owing to the lack of support from its members, but this also creates room for dictatorship, as the one who solely sustain the party decides on issues concerning the party. The issue of decision-making then becomes a “one-man show.” This, I feel does not augur well in the building of institutions as political parties should be.
Yes, an individual can conceive the idea of organizing a political party, but its sustainability and operation should not rest with one person. Political parties in the country should inculcate in their members the sense of giving to the party for its upkeep. This, I believe would make them to have a greater stake and also give them a sense of ownership.
Once again, the action of the CDC is to change the political culture, so as to voluntarily and graciously contribute to their parties. With this, I don’t believe that the National Elections Commission (NEC) would have any reason to de-certificate any political parties, either for not having a bank account or headquarters in keeping with Article 83(d) of the Liberian Constitution.
That provision requires that, “Every political party shall, on September 1 each year, and every candidate of such political party and every independent candidate shall, not later than thirty days prior to holding of an election in which he/she is a candidate, publish and submit to the Elections Commission detailed statements of assets and liabilities. These shall include the enumeration of sources of funds and other assets, plus list of expenditures. Where the filing of such statements is made in an election year, every political party and independent candidate shall be required to file with the Elections Commission additional detailed supplementary statements of all funds received and expenditures made by them from the date of filing of the original statements to the date of the elections. Any political party or independent candidate who ceases to function shall publish and submit a final financial statement to the Elections Commission.”
I cite this constitutional provision because I believe that it is the lack of support from partisans and supporters that usually leads political parties to falling into trouble with the Elections Commission. There can be no argument that every political party needs finance to also operate. This is why the moves by the CDC is laudable and hope it would become a reality and that others would be encouraged to follow this path, as political parties need these kinds of fundraising activities to keep them operational and avoid this “one-man show.”
Again, let political parties operate as institutions, and not as the personal property of anyone, whether that person is someone of affluence or influence. I Rest My Case.