Democracy within the SPLM: “Selector-ate” or electorate system?


Robert Ingersoll, an American civil war veteran and politician, once said that, “give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.” The SPLM has espoused and fought for the democratic principles of freedom of expression, justice, equality, liberty and dignity for the marginalized people in the Sudan for the last three decades. These are the principles that are embodied and enshrined in the SPLM manifesto and it’s constitution. The SPLM managed to get the golden opportunity to practice what it preaches in Southern Sudan when the CPA was signed in 2005.

It therefore came as a surprise to me during the Sudan general elections of April 2010 when the SPLM refused to back some candidates that were proposed from the grassroots by the various constituencies as their representatives. Although the Secretary General of the SPLM, comrade Pagan Amum, and the SPLM leadership later apologized for the miscalculated move, it was nonetheless the first major and critical blow to the democratic transformation that the SPLM has been singing about over the years.

I won’t go into the possible purported reasons as to why the SPLM took that drastic move but I would want us as citizens to look at the intent behind the move now that we are fast approaching the 2015 general elections. Democracy is defined as rule of the people by the people and for the people. When you eliminate the peoples’ decision out of this equation, then you are talking about dictatorship.

During the process of debating the current interim constitution of South Sudan in late 2010 and early 2011, those who called for term limits, vesting more powers in the legislature, empowering the judiciary and limiting the powers of the executive were labelled derogatorily as enemies of the state. Why would people who believe in democracy call an individual with a different opinion an enemy?

What does democracy mean to them? Are we as a people suffering from intellectual myopia? We are currently embarking on drafting the permanent constitution for South Sudan and we are already shooting ourselves in the foot. Twelve months have gone already and nothing has been done. The Minister of Justice, Mr. John Luk, has given the constitutional review body another non-renewable twelve months.

The first twelve months elapsed with no progress due to lack on funding. Are our national priorities right? The opposition is saying the process is not inclusive. The SPLM led government should ensure that it involves all hues and shades of our country in this process.

We have seen unilateral decisions being taken by senior party officials without consultation of the SPLM State secretariat in Lakes State, Northern Bhar el Ghazal State and Upper Nile State, just to mention but a few. Some of these decisions taken are on the wrong side of our South Sudan Interim Constitution 2011; if you have had the chance to personally read it.

The democratic space seems to be limited around personalities and the decisions making process seems to favour the top-bottom approach instant of consultation within the wider structures of the party where decisions should ideally emanate from as per the SPLM 2007 constitution.

So far the deliberations led by Dr. Anne Itto on the code of conduct, rules and regulations and review of 2007 SPLM constitution are positive steps. For the documents to represent the will and aspirations of the entire party, the various committees need to allow a broad based participation of the elected members so that their views are incorporated before they are passed.

Dr. Luka Biong Deng penned a wonderful article on the workshop that he attended in Italy in October 2012 called” The Curse of Liberation.” The article can be simply summarized as all armed liberation movements in Africa and around the world slowly turn their backs to the ideals that they fought for once they attain their political freedom from their former colonizers or oppressors. It can be bluntly stated that the new liberators quickly become the new oppressors.

The question that I and you, the dear reader, need to sincerely ask ourselves is this: should we allow the SPLM to become our new tyrant? We could rather say that should Juba become our new Khartoum? The obvious logical answer would be no.

What I’m quite sure of as a common citizen on the ground is that the people of South Sudan still believe that SPLM is their political party and they will want to give it the benefit of a doubt. SPLM therefore needs to cement this goodwill from the people by allowing real democracy to be practised within the party.

The leadership should not take this for granted. It can do this by allowing all elected members to openly vie for positions within the party including the Chair of the party who I assume will be the presidential candidate in 2015.

All elected members should be able to openly vie for the various positions without the slightest hint of fear or hesitation. If they are afraid, then they seriously need to evaluate this freedom we claim to have.

The Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) ruled Kenya since it independence in 1963. It was abandoned by the masses in 2002 after thirty nine years of its rule and it collapsed under its own weight. Many senior party members left it because the playing field was not leveled for all members of the party.

Will the SPLM as a political party survive the next twenty years?

In my view it will largely depend on what is done in terms of systems, processes and procedures of electing members from the grassroots to the top and how the political field will be leveled in the upcoming convention this year.

I hope the years of fighting for freedom, the huge sacrifices made and the suffering of our people were not just opportunities for SPLM to preach water and now that freedom is here, they want to drink wine.

Let me leave you with a thought from a former five-star general and thirty-fourth president of the United States of America, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who stated that, “freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”

Mr. Deng Malok is a concerned South Sudanese and a member of the SPLM based in Juba and can be reached at


  1. Dear Mr Deng Malok:

    I want you to understand that one party cannot be only a mill machine in the government in the South Sudan! SPLM party under Dr.John Garang De Mabior`s successor, President Salva Kirr leadership has become A PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA!

    For you, for President Kirr to seek election in 2015,for me, it is UNHEALTHY MATTER! He should step down when his tenure in office comes to expire.

  2. anok maketh says:

    You are totally right, what you have articulated is not a myth but all reality, our lately achieved independence should have been a blessing to us because our country is born while a lot of materials are around to work with which several nations never had.

    Fortunately enough, we have all the materials needed to found a fair & efficient democracy the right way. Ironically, the SPLM leadership seemed not willing to take advantage of these experiences of the other nations but instead, borrowed the very repressive culture of Khartoum that was rejected by the very south Sudanese whom they are trying to lead.

    The only alternative there is this time, if Kiir imposed himself for the party’s candidacy, it will be the abandonment OF the PARTY ITSELF. Nothing personal but the party system collapsed under his leadership. Abandoning your party does not mean one has betrayed his /her country, especially now after independence.

    This fact referred to Mr. Gandhi of India, who urged members of his own party (the national congress party) that “NO ONE SHOULD FOLLOW THIS PARTY BECAUSE IT BELONGs TO GANDHI” is one of his famous statements which allowed Indian citizens to switch parties without guilt. ‘ALWAYS CHOOSE A PARTY LED BY INDIVIDUAL WITH THE NATIONAL INTEREST AT HEART RATHER THAN SELF AMBITIONS,” Gadhi explained. Besides, those previous parties who represented us during Anyanya one, also deserve support which SPLM TOOK FOR GRANTED.

  3. Wani George says:

    Mr. Deng,
    truth is bitter. I agree with you just as I agreed with Dr. Luka Biong’s article titled ” the curse of liberation”.
    He analytically idendified a common pattern that seems to be the same across various liberation movements. Their analysis showed that the very virtues of liberation movements pose real challenges for providing a viable government. One of the Virtues of victorious liberation movements is that they inherit from the struggle a powerful sense of legitimacy.
    So all in all the long list in transforming a liberation movement into a government is not intended to convey a sense of hopelessness in our case. On the contrary it provides a solid basis for addressing them. One serious note Dr. Luka mentioned that it is too early to judge the performance of the SPLM in the transition from liberation struggle to government. But to him some early indicators strongly suggest that the SPLM is at early stage of being affected by the “Curse of Liberation”. This should be seen as early warning to the SPLM.

  4. Roto Nice says:

    Dear Deng,
    I only can say well done bro, SPLM needs transformation from top-bottom in actual facts, only the few are the ones turnishing the image of the party. change of leadership is the key, SPLM is a people’s party of which every southerner paid dearly for it and we shall not leave it to collape like KANU. let you and I work together to bring about the positive change.
    Those leaders who do not want change will be changed by change and SPLM will exist for ever and ever.

    • Chinthiangyom Ajolajak says:

      all you said are reality to any humankind, but Splm/Spla Sudanese in general were fought to liberate anyone for good. Thanks to Heroes, the living and the dead people of Splm/Spla, they had liberated South Sudan. In my thought the living people of Splm/Spla should not run for presidential from the ages of 50th and above, they are good example of our nation “freedom fighters” if they fought for justice for all. If they had fought their individually interest or position, then they still have a right to hold their positions for supporting their families. As we’ve all seen, those who fought with them and have no ranking position are now suffering with their families. I think Dr. Garang had died with all opportunities, we Sudanese been looking for!

  5. Peter Lorenso says:

    Mr. Deng,
    If SPLM can use the upcoming convention to level the playing field, then that will be good. Otherwise we the South Sudanese must look for other options.

  6. John Michael says:

    A well articulated article indeed, Mr. Deng, and constructive criticism for the SPLM. As it currently stands, the support for the SPLM is dwindling by day and for those who have quit, they would rather do it silently, or else they would be considered “enemies of the state” or “bribed by Jalaba”. The way out is for SPLM to listen to and respect contrasting opinions within the party and not to label those with different opinions as enemies. If that is done, we may see once again, mass support like it used to have before the independence.

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