There are at least two ways to look at the recent 100% endorsement of President Jonathan as the sole presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
One way is to see it as a vote of confidence by party members; acknowledgement of a strong first term and confidence that the President is the best candidate within the PDP to take the 2015 elections. While there are examples from the United States in support of the automatic ticket, a challenge to an incumbent president who wants to run again is not unheard of. In 1976, Ronald Reagan nearly defeated the incumbent, Gerald Ford winning, 1070 votes to Ford’s 1187 during the Republican National Convention.
The other way has to do with concerns about the development of democracy in Nigeria particularly internal party democracy and the strengthening of accountability mechanisms between elected officials and the electorate.
Some believe the presentation of President Jonathan as the consensus candidate has buried whatever remained of the severely under nourished democracy that exists in the ruling party. Not just because the President has been presented as a consensus candidate, but because of what it took to get this agreement and what it means to the other positions to be contested.
The PDP governors eligible for a 2nd term like Yero of Kaduna and Dankwambo of Gombe will want an automatic ticket – regardless of whether they have performed well or if there are stronger candidates. It has also been reported that not only have outgoing governors been given the green light to crown their successors, their bid to retire into the Senate has been endorsed. And to cap it all, there is a promise that the EFCC will not investigate them or use whatever it finds to prosecute them. Arguably, senators, members of the House of Representatives and state houses of assembly will all want the same deal.
There is more.
Apparently, one of the outcomes of the round of meetings that the party executives held last week was to fundamentally change the process for PDP primaries. Typically, all party executives at all levels from the wards, through the states and up to the national level were automatic (theme word for the week) delegates along with fixed numbers of party members specially elected to serve as delegates during the primaries. This drastically drops the number of delegates who will vote and elected party officials are profoundly unhappy. For one, it keeps them out of the delegate gravy train where they are furiously courted with escalating bids. However, the change, if implemented, also wittingly or not, also reduces the influence of those who have spent years ‘grooming’ party executives to do their bidding and levels the playing field somewhat for aspirants and new entrants.
In addition, aspirants might find that their chances are better with fewer delegates to persuade and monitor but this is a double-edged sword because by reducing the number of delegates, it makes it easier, some would argue, for one aspirant to capture them all or secure a majority. It also means that the cost of securing delegates will rise and the PDP primaries will become even more of a multiple-zeros-sum-winner-takes-all battle.
The All Progressive Congress (APC) on the other hand might be reducing the potency of money in their primaries. One version of the story about why the famed Atiku purse could not determine the outcome of the Adamawa gubernatorial primaries is because of the introduction of direct primaries. To decide who would be the flag bearer for the October 11 gubernatorial elections, every registered APC member in Adamawa was eligible to vote – no delegates. Over 6000 people voted. If the APC adopts the same system for the primaries later this year, it will be revolutionary in Nigerian politics especially if all the primaries happen on the same day and not staggered like the PDP.
The real work for APC presidential candidates will be to sell themselves and their ideas to the over 2 million registered members and convince as many of them as possible to make it to the voting arena and vote for them. The chances of one candidate being able to corner a majority of votes using the usual inducements are slim. The thought of increased transparency and choking the power of money in our politics is terribly exciting. This can only be good for the development of our democracy and there is a strong chance that the 2015 general elections will be note-worthy for more reasons than the one everyone is thinking about.