OPPOSITION PARTY vs. ALTERNATIVE PARTY
Aside from the governing party, every democracy worth the name recognises the place of other political parties in the scheme of things.
And because of the roles they should ideally play, e.g. giving constructive criticisms to government policies and programmes, offering alternative perspectives to the management of national affairs, and also pointing out the occasional gaffes of the party in government to the citizenry and to the party itself, these parties are traditionally referred to as the Opposition.
Also, in a multiparty presidential democracy such as ours in Nigeria (Nigeria currently has 30 registered political parties), the ‘Opposition’ is usually personified by the biggest of all the other parties outside of government, the actions and positions of which are usually taken to be that of the ‘Opposition’.
But one consequence of this kind of development is that it confines national discourse to the cubicle of a ‘Them’ versus ‘Us’ mentality. This urges the parties to employ whatever tactic they can to deplete the stocks of whatever goodwill they have with the citizens, thus relegating national developmental interests to the background, and technically turning governance into war, where all- no matter how ignoble- is fair and square. The citizens are also sucked into this whirlwind of polarisation, and tensions rise on account of the ethnic and religious considerations they use as platforms to promote and rationalize their different positions.
Wearing the tag of an ‘Opposition’ party in a country with many fault lines like ours will by default make such a party more of disperser than a gatherer; a destroyer than a builder; and one which will never see anything from the viewpoint of national developmental interests, but from the narrow viewpoint of party interests, no matter how anti-progress such interests may be. It is in the light of this reality that the action of some state governor ‘opposing’ the efforts of the Federal Government to give the country macro-economic relief can be explained.
When parties out of government consider themselves as – and are constantly reminded that they are- ‘Alternatives’, they would gradually shift from the default mode of needless belligerence to that of conscious cooperation; from narrow-minded criticism of government to open-minded evaluation of same; and from problem-magnifying commentaries to solution-laden contributions to national discourse.
Wearing the tag of an ‘Alternative’ party would get parties that are out of government to be more creative and resourceful, knowing that what would get them into office, among other things, is the quality of possible solutions to national challenges they can proffer and how much of them they can place before the electorate, which would elect them into government.
When a party regards itself as ‘Alternative’ and not ‘Opposition’, it would not be quick to exploit the fault lines of the country to advance its short-term political interests. It would not pander to the ethnic and religious sentiments of an ill-informed electorate to cast the government in bad light and ride on the wave of that consequent disaffection into government.
Lest it be misunderstood, the idea of a party conceiving itself as ‘Alternative’ does not mean that it would turn a blind eye to the foibles and mistakes of the party in government or go about its business as though it were an associate of the governing party.
On the contrary, it would pick these, show them to the electorate in the most nationalistic and patriotic way possible, and equally demonstrate how it would go one better over the governing party to do things differently and progressively when voted into government.
In summary, while it is the specialty of the ‘Opposition’ party to magnify the things that are not working and why the electorate should not vote for the governing party, it is the distinctive feature of the ‘Alternative’ party to point out the things that could work, in addition to those which are already working; and why the electorate should vote it into government.
With its scathing criticisms, usually devoid of practicable solutions, the ‘Opposition’ party puts the spotlight on the governing party; while the ‘Alternative’ party puts the spotlight on itself with its open-minded commentaries and solution-laden propositions, which will afford the governing party alternative views and the citizenry, an idea of new possibilities.
Nigeria would be better off with just one ‘Alternative’ party than the multitude of ‘Opposition’ parties it currently parades.
It is time we rethink this.