Friday, 21 November 2014

Parliamentary punch-ups

Suddenly the political action has shifted to Africa's parliaments, as party alliances crack and legislators target the executive authority of presidents. The latest parliamentary fracas, in Nigeria, pitted the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) against riot police and ended in masked officers firing tear gas into the main lobby of the building on 20 November.

The clash started when the APC's latest recruit, Aminu Tambuwal, who has defected from the governing People's Democratic Party, turned up at the National Assembly. His attempt to carry on in his post as Speaker of the House of Representatives affronted his old allies and they locked him out of the building. Undaunted, opposition members of parliament scaled the walls to force a way in for Tambuwal. After hasty consultation, Senate President David Mark adjourned all sessions until 25 November.

A week earlier, riot police stormed South Africa's Parliament to remove Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela, an MP from the radical Economic Freedom Fighters. African National Congress MP and House Chairman Cedric Frolick ordered that she be forcibly evicted after she refused to withdraw her accusation that President Jacob Zuma was 'a thief'. More bizarre still, the centrist and hitherto mild Democratic Alliance MPs joined forces with more radical oppositionists and tried to shield Mashabela. Now the DA claims its MPs were injured in the ensuing altercation.

What lessons from these parliamentary punch-ups? Firstly, the use of force against political dissidents strengthens opposition morale and cooperation. Secondly, those who have seen police act arbitrarily against others may now spare some sympathy for parliamentary protestors.

No comments: