James Madison, the author of the tenth instalment of The Federalist Papers, defines a political faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”. Simply put, factions are caused by “groups which pursue self-interest at the expense of the greater good”. Debatable and a topic for another day! But contrary to this statement, political formations and to a great extent, always vehemently and with all the courage they can muster, dismiss existence of factions because admitting that factions exist could be misconstrued as a sign of disunity and sign of failing to manage.
Madison argues that “Liberty is to factions what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires”. Again simply put, in order for factions to exist or flourish, there must be liberty (freedom of free speech and other freedoms) much as for fire to grow there must be plenty of air. It follows therefore that the only practical way to deal once and for all with factions will be to withdraw liberties enjoyed by members of the political formations – an impossible task considering that these liberties are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. So it is impossible to completely suppress dissent even if one desired to do so. While this article is centred on political formations, factions are also inherent in others like trade unions where we saw the formation of BOFEPUSU from BFTU, faith-based formations like the break-up of the ZCC, the birth of BCP from the BNF and BMD from the BDP. All these break-ups were “actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens….”
Political formations are made up of a wide and diverse membership base which comes from different political and other backgrounds from which vested interests arise. At the heart of these interests are mostly self-interests. Issues of principle connected to the greater good are always very few hence the usual and common flip-flopping of politicians – that is politicians will leave a certain party for whatever reason and in no time they return to those parties and to those very same circumstances they were complaining about. If we look at the BMD factional battles for example, we find that there are two centres of power – one consisting of the party Chairman and the Secretary General while the other is made up of the party President and his deputy. These factions are fighting for the total control of the party where each side accuses the other of wrong doing and like Madison’s defines it, these are “groups which pursue self-interest at the expense of the greater good”. The greater good for the BMD is - whether as a single entity or a partner under the umbrella shade – to attain political power to unseat the BDP while self-interest is that this public good would rather be forsaken if neither faction is in control.
Self-interest taking precedence over the public good is precisely the point why the BMD and its allies have been eluded by political power to rule. The faction that calls for reconciliation has a following so is the other calling for a special congress. At the end of the factional fight between these two factions is that the greater good of the party is severely compromised as is the case. When it comes to the BDP, factions have not escaped it either with the notable resignation of a sizeable number of its members in 2010 led by highly influential and educated individuals to form the BMD. These individuals allegedly held that there was no internal democracy in the party and that its President held excessive powers which required to be lessened. Some of these individuals have since re-joined the party notwithstanding their earlier misgivings about the management of the party structures. The Siele Commission vindicated some of the complaints raised by those who were unsuccessful in primary elections. Will history repeat itself during the next primary elections notwithstanding the findings and recommendations of the commission? Difficult to say but tell-tale could be developing.
Just before the 2014 elections, some members who felt hard done by the internal party democracy specifically the conduct of the primary elections, resigned to stand as independent candidates for both parliament and council seats. Some of them have also since returned to the same party they were complaining about. It is important to note that factions take all forms of shape and sizes in all political formations. There will be those that are secretive and those that are in the public domain like the Barata-Phathi and the A- Team, those advocating for reconciliation and those calling for a special congress. As long as political formations consist of a wide and diverse membership base, differences in opinion in these formations will always at some point lead to some form of factions. Political power is the most sought-out commodity which gives all those who hold it access to a variety of advantages. In pursuit of this power, factions will always be part and parcel of political formations.