A lot of hullaballoo has been made in the past few days about the statement made by President Hage Geingob when he challenged deputy ministers to resign if they disagree with the manner he presides over government. The statement has provoked a litany of strong opinions.
Some believe that the president is showing colours of dictatorship, intolerance, arrogance and rules through fear. This group strongly feels that democracy is being eroded, and the country is moving towards a one-party state. They contend that because ministers and deputy ministers are paid with public funds, they are entitled to hold views that are at variance or contradictory to the presidency and the party they represent in parliament, as they are there to serve the public, and disagreeing with the position taken by their party will infuse healthy debates in parliament. They further contend that ministers should not be made puppets of the president or the party they represent in parliament; they should pursue their independent views and positions, anything less than that is autocracy.
Others argue that too many cooks spoil the broth in the sense that some ministers and their deputies behave as though they run parallel governments to the one headed by President Geingob. This group contends that when you have too many chiefs and not enough Indians, it becomes difficult to implement any agreed programme because everyone will be engaged in giving orders instead of executing them.
This group questions why ministers and their deputies should belong to a party whose programmes, policies, and vision they disagree with; why serve a president whose programmes or directives you are not prepared to obey; and why accept a position if you are not clear on the reporting lines or required responsibilities?
Whichever way one looks at it, this debate cannot be divorced from the role and importance of the doctrine of inner party democracy in the consolidation of unity within the leadership and rank and file of any party or government. Inner party democracy is the glue that holds together any party and oils its cohesion. The major prescriptions of inner party democracy include transparency, accountability, inclusion of divergent views/opinions and strengthening of the collective decision.
The political process of making and running a government can be democratic only when the parties that govern are internally adequately democratic. The development of inner party democracy is important in not squelching different opinions within a party. As long as members are not opposed to the fundamental line of the party, do not engage in plots of splitting the party or factionalism, then different opinions may add value to the final agreed principles, programmers and actions of the party.
The ideology and policy of the party must be formed through the informed and qualitative participation of the majority of its members rather than by a clique. They should be formulated by direct participation of all members in a transparent manner. Decisions on policies must be taken through the process of wider discussion among members.
The doctrine of collective responsibility provides that every member who participates (or is supposed to participate) in a decision-making group is equally responsible for the consequences of the decisions taken; should fully support and abide by the group’s decisions – whether or not he/she participated in the decision-making process or opposed the decision at the time; otherwise, should resign from the group. If a member of the group who initially opposed the collective decision does not resign but instead challenges that decision in public, then the group may dismiss such a member from its group. An example of this took place in 1993 when Anton von Wietersheim resigned (or was fired as is popularly believed) from his cabinet position for essentially publicly disagreeing with a collective cabinet decision.
Collective responsibility is a cornerstone of any institution’s cohesion. It depends on three main pillars: unanimity, confidentiality and the confidence of the institution (party or government). Party central committees are intensely collective forums where members discuss policy, consider options and jointly take responsibility for the decisions they make. Conventionally, once a decision is made at this forum, all members must support and defend that decision in public, including in parliament, whether or not members were present or not when the decision was taken. Collectivity is fundamental in any party. Not only is disunity unpopular with the public, it visibly and publicly depicts a politically vulnerable party. The party stands or falls according to whether or not it has the confidence of its members.
A president cannot effectively rule when he faces dissent within his cabinet or party. Arguing otherwise would be foolhardy. Geingob is elected to fulfill the promises he made to the electorate. Failure to deliver on those promises falls squarely on his shoulders. Those appointed by him and who serve at his pleasure are bound to toe his line and no one else’s – they accepted the positions and must dance to the tune and deliver rather than engage in unproductive debates. Similarly, the governing party is elected on the basis of its manifesto, which should be jealously explained and defended when parliament debates its implementation. A parliamentarian who uses parliament as a platform to berate the policies, positions, and or principles of his/her party, is surely not worthy of being a member of that party, especially if platforms are available to state his/her misgivings – the secretary-general of the party, the party’s chief whip are such conduits of engagement for raising opposing views. Doing that in public invites chaos and un-governability, and only a lame-duck president would tolerate that. Firm leadership should not be mistaken for dictatorship. However, wherever dictatorship rears its head, it should be confronted unreservedly.
- Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.