Despite the caveat that accompanied the call by Malik Agar Chairman of SPLM-N faction on opposition forces to use the upcoming 2020 election as a mean to dismantle the current regime and replace it peacefully, the move represents a major political development.
The call amounts to a sharp shift from a leader and his movement that has preached and practised for close to a quarter century armed struggle as a mean for change. Probably the internal division that has plagued SPLM-N with Agar emerging the loser, has something to do with that shift.
But, in effect, this development represents a major review of the old faith on resorting to violence to redress injustices in its various forms to focus on peaceful means. This call seems to tacitly endorse author Gene Sharp dictum in his renowned book From Dictatorship to Democracy, where he pointed out that, “By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which oppressors nearly have superiority.”
However, for such call to find its way into reality a lot depends on a number of factors starting with the government and how it handles it, making use of this opening to further its long stated goal of using ballot box as the only means for change.
Leaving aside several strings Agar attached to his call for opposition groups to look into the possibility of joining the 2020 presidential elections, the bottom line is a fresh look to use elections as a vehicle for change. Ballots, not bullets.
To put such call into a more practical format that creates a more conducive environment two main things need to happen. First the call should continue along the way to end up with the logical conclusion of renouncing violence as a mean for change. Equally important is the government move to drop any legal punishments or criminal accusations against rebel leaders. And crown these moves by having a formal ceasefire. For all practical reasons series of unilateral ceasefires have been in place for more than two years and it is high time to turn that unilateral ceasefire into a formal one.
And that is where the need arises for a far-sighted political approach, probably with some regional and international help, able to bring together scattered signals into a one unified whole strategy and how to embark on an effort to build on the call by Agar to accommodate as many rebel groups as possible in the domestic political scene, engage with their followers and build a visible presence in the country’s political playground.
In an uncharacteristic way, Agar criticized the performance of the opposition groups including his that has split, and who failed in following up to regional and international changes taking place and utilize it for their sake. It is not clear how various opposition groups reacted to this call. In fact if they are serious enough they should address the issue of boycott and how much opposition have gained from boycotting over the years. For all practical purposes every one including opposition recognizes the regime as the de facto authority in the country and deal with it accordingly.
But more important is the belief that elections can be a vehicle for change and adjust all political activities accordingly. Yet for such a potential to be a reality two main issues need to be resolved: to end the diaspora political activities and engage into a daily political exercises. Unless rebel groups renounce violence they will remain blocked into the areas they control only or abroad without being able to swim into the main stream of population. All the talk about combining both armed struggle with peaceful means is proving to be a very futile exercise and always comes at the expense of any peaceful political activity.
Also there is the high priority of having a unified political program for all opposition groups and good coordination that ends up with one candidate standing before whoever the National Congress Party picks to stand on its behalf for the presidential elections.
The fact that there are three main opposition blocs each incorporating different groups shows the difficulty of achieving somehow a harmonious, weighty opposition group, but that could easily be addressed through better utilization and engagement of daily political activity to improve the environment instead of the resorting to the usual habit of issuing list of demands not backed by political activity, which usually ends into the dustbin.
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