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Reflections and analysis on parliament amended four constitutional chapters

By Osman H. Yussuf

Nowadays disagreements over domestic politics and the ensuing conflicts as well as the reactions thereon have become deeply subjective and hardly objective. Leaders who avoid to engage in a meaningful dialogue with stakeholders certainly encounter confrontation head-on resulting in the re-emergence of conflict. In the now concluded partial review of the draft constitution on which members of both chambers of the parliament voted in the first round of the debate focused on controversial amendments put forward unilaterally by the Executive on four chapters of the document. The aim, it’s said, is to put the country on to a new path of perfecting State building, the style and form of government without prior proper consultation with all interested parties whose perspective and legitimate concerns should have been taken into account. Denying inclusivity on matters of national character is a senseless approach with detrimental impact on political stability.

President Hassan at the signing event of the amended constitutional chapters

As widely expected the proposed changes met a formidable challenge before and during the debate from some members of the Parliament who pointed out that these amendments amount to drafting a new constitution without proper prior consultation with all stakeholders. In fact, what the Executive proposed as amendments was tantamount to fundamental constitutional changes which differed from those shared and agreed previously with the regional leaders. Submitting a revised version of the four chapters to the Parliament without again sharing with the local authorities appears to be a move that could be construed as underestimating the member states’ role.

On winding up the heated arguments, the amendments were put to vote and approved by a joint Parliament session with an unprecedented unanimous voting following an active campaign by the Executive soliciting yes-votes while ostensibly offering each member, as rumored, a huge sum of money or promising a ministerial position. But this manipulative behavior and such unrealistic promises to unsuspecting deputies eventually ended up with only a few of them actually rewarded whereas many others remained sidelined and disillusioned. This regrettable attitude of the members of Parliament who yielded to pressure and perhaps overtaken by greed will resonate with them as a terrible miscalculation that will surely continue to haunt them besides facing strong people’s anger for having betrayed the principles to which they had committed.

At first it was thought that the political hurdles could not be easily overcome as the opposition was determined and vocal in their interventions but surprisingly when the issues were put to a vote the result was a resounding show of hands without Nays or abstentions whereas the few brave dissenting voices during the debate evaporated and could be seen nowhere. This situation will surely raise eyebrows regarding the proceedings of the legislative body whose duty is to handle such sensitive and nationally important issues in a more responsible and transparent manner. Some analysts believe that these changes will meet more obstacles in the implementation stage and probably amended as regional leaders who are reported to be unhappy with some modifications on the version they had agreed to with the President will voice their objections and probably call for further adjustments so as to produce a version of amendments acceptable to all stakeholders. The draft constitution itself was approved by the conference of elders in 2012 although it took more than a decade to adjust and still the parliament is working on it on a piecemeal approach to its final form.

Examining more closely the core amendment regarding the leadership style there is a mixed feeling among observers that a President and a Vice President elected by a popular vote, in the opinion of some, is a better option than one elected by a parliament known for their luster for a business-like deal while others feel it irrational for a President to appoint and dismiss his Prime Minister at will as envisaged in the enacted amendment when in the past he had to seek approval from the lower Parliament to remove him. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a parliamentary President along with a Prime Minister both of whom enjoy a balanced power sharing as is the case now rightly ensures the checks and balances enshrined in the constitution. Still others’ perspective is that the amendments were untimely and only exacerbated existing political divide further fueling society’s polarization in the midst of most urgent crisis of security and war against the insurgency.

What most politicians and the opposition fear on the constitutional changes is that expected delays in the preparations for the forthcoming universal suffrage of one person, one vote far beyond the stated schedule of the general election might be considered by the current Legislative body as a reasonable option to allow for the sitting Head of State an unspecified term extension. Such a move will lead to renewed political crisis as had happened with his predecessor who was compelled to give in and eventually had to retreat with grace. Critics point out that the Executive could have avoided to lock horns with the political opponents over these controversial amendments in the draft constitution for not being appropriate at this time the country is facing enormous challenges requiring resolve and cooperation. The failure to work out together the right strategy to navigate out of the troubled environment is probably caused by the stubbornness of the political leaders at all levels whereas they could have turned the moment into an opportunity to get closer together and explore common ground.

On the positive side, a universal suffrage on one-person, one-vote basis under a three-party system seems to have gained instant public approval bearing in mind the electoral debacle of 1968. Committing to early preparations for a multi-party general election to be held in time for the next cycle of voting will restore people’s confidence and put an end to the political uncertainty that has plagued the country for so long under the indirect elections marred by endless feud and unresolved disputes. No one condones changing an established order through manipulations that fuel ongoing conflicts and, worse still, taking matters of public interest into one’s own hands on what had been democratically agreed to is a recipe for continuing confrontation. It’s politically a dangerous course of action that will create an atmosphere of recriminations and finger pointing among the political elite eventually leading to instability and stagnation with grave repercussions for the country’s socio-economic trajectory and its external relations at a time when the country badly needs to focus on peace and good governance.

To some it was unusual to see the debate among the deputies ending up in a noisy quarrel and chaos that did not bode well with the orderly conduct of the Assembly’s legal work and more so on the good image of the country but what they might not be aware of is that in a modern society this kind of uncontrolled behavior among opposing deputies during a heated debate is quietly tolerated and described as ‘democracy in action’ elsewhere in the world.

In conclusion, it should be underlined that the choice to have a presidential style of government or a parliamentary one as well as other issues of equally national importance is ultimately a matter at best determined through a nation-wide referendum carried out timely in freedom and fairness.

Osman H. Yusuf
Email: [email protected]


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