Opposition - Running for government means building a credible force
Holding the reins of power is no easy task, which is perhaps why, in many countries, especially in Africa, the holders of power have opted for an unassailable single party. But now the hour of democracy has struck, it is no easy task being in opposition either. One of the many reasons for this lies in the nature of the opposition parties themselves, especially in Africa, where they have all the handicaps of being divided, fragmented and lacking any credible political, economic or social plans or programmes with which to back up their criticism of governments with decades of experience behind them.
This is the situation in Côte d'Ivoire, although the country has no monopoly, on it. Beyond all the judicial and other impediments which, with its political, advantage and its control of the State machinery, the Government can put in the way of the opposition, the opposition parties are failing properly to gauge the full weight of opinion they have to shift, nor do they suspect how seriously they are handicapped by having no experience of power.
There may well be a genuine, deep seated desire for change in Côte d'lvoire, but the plain fact of the matter is that the people want to know just who their would-be rulers are. Whatever the courage and charisma of the leader of the de facto opposition, Laurent Gbagbo, the FPI (Ivorian Popular Front) Secretary General who once ran against Houphouet-Boigny in the presidential elections, he has never had the plans or arguments to win people over. Indeed, one or two of his tactical errors gave the Government a golden opportunity to reduce his chances drastically.
But there is variety in the Ivorian opposition. Take Professor Bernard Zadi, Secretary-General of the USD (Union of Social Democrats), a democracy activist for more than 20 years, first in France, with the FEANF (French Federation of Black and African Students), and then in Côte d'Ivoire, where he has been arrested on a number of occasions. How does he see politics in his country now that the multi-party system has been recognised?
'This is the first ray of sunshine in politics here', he says. His big concern is the difficulty of organising the forces of democratic change in Côte d'Ivoire. 'Once the parties were recognised, the FPI came straight in with its opposition coordination initiative,' the Professor told me. But, as he made clear, there was no organic basis to it and it only served to underline the inconsistencies between the opposition parties, particularly after presidential elections were announced in October 1990. 'People were confident in the opposition while it was united, by and large, but the crack which the FPI created sowed doubt'-and enabled President Houphouet-Boigny to be elected again. 'The FPI is a populist party based on the charismatic image of Laurent Gbagbo and it takes a hot-headed, slapdash approach to serious, complex economic issues and the running of the State. The crowds which attend meetings and demonstrations are not always militants. Most of them are people with nothing to do, whose enthusiasm is no sorner kindled than it dies down again'. Professor Zadi added. The personal reputation of the leader of the FPI was not high enough to win him the presidential elections. That was something he had failed to understand.
The opposition must be credible if it wants to govern
What the USD wants now is to build up the opposition forces so they are credible and can win the elections and govern the country democratically, Bernard Zadi says. They must learn from what has gone before. They must try to get joint opposition party schemes off the ground again with such things as flexible coordination and proposals embracing every aspect of the economic political and social life of the nation. They must think about how democracy should function, for, he maintains, the conditions for it are not right at the moment. 'There is no separation of State bodies and ruling party at the moment' Professor Zadi says. 'The Government does not yet see the opposition as essential to democracy. Equally, the President of the Republic is not yet seen as the President of all the Ivorians but as the President of his supporters and his party. The opposition does not get invited to the ceremonies of the Republic as it would in any proper democracy'. And then of course there is the problem of financing the political parties in such a way as to avoid any confusion between public monies and spending by the ruling party.
Anything likely to diminish the opposition's credibility must be avoided, Zadi maintains, and the USD indeed spoke out against the scheme which some opposition parties were hoping to use to stop the national assembly from debating the press law, although it was in fact itself against it. The Leader of the USD also said he disagreed with the way the Government had put down the February demonstration in Abidjan and had treated the MPs and political leaders who were, rightly or wrongly, caught up in it. L.P.
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