Have trouble forming govt in UK? Turn to Rwanda

On May 8 the British will wake up with a new government, or maybe not. They might, instead face the reality of a few days of negotiations between parties before the next government is formed.

On May 8 the British will wake up with a new government, or maybe not. They might, instead face the reality of a few days of negotiations between parties before the next government is formed.

That is because neither of the two major parties, Labour and the Conservatives, is expected to win an outright majority. And so a hung parliament is predicted.

The General Election on May 7 will mark the end of a largely dull campaign. British election campaigns are often a colourful affair, even from a distance like here in Rwanda.

There is usually a lot of name-calling and other terrible insults. Rotten eggs get thrown at the candidates and their supporters. It appears everyone wants to shout louder than the other and outdo them in being rude. Most campaign rallies look like a rowdy market-place or a circus.

Many of the things they say and do would be considered uncultured in Rwanda and could never be done here.

Most of these have been absent this time. But you can be sure there will always be a little colour even in a dull British election. Some of this has come from the three women leaders of parties that have no chance of winning the election.

They can only be spoilers. One of them could even be a kingmaker. The other has come from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) with its immigrant-hating leader.

The lack of colour is matched by a lack of clear winner at the polls as neither can muster the required majority to form a government.

The likely scenario is therefore another coalition government. The British have just had one, but for some reason they don’t seem to like the arrangement very much. Some actually prefer a minority government to a coalition with all the instability that may create.

In this they are behind the times and even going against the tide. Over the last few decades the trend across Europe and other parts of the world has been towards power-sharing among the different parties.

Politicians have progressively been forced away from the first past the post or winner-take-all electoral systems to more inclusive arrangements.

So what has happened to British politics to make it colourless and for voters to be unable to make a clear choice? Several things.

First, political positions have changed and ideological lines have become blurred, not just in the UK but in other countries as well. Parties are increasingly clashing over the same voter constituency.

For instance, the Conservatives, traditionally a party of wealth and privilege, have been moving to the centre to court the growing middle class that does not always neatly fit into the old divisions.

Labour, too, once the champion of the working class, has been moving to the centre to woo the same middle class the Tories are after.

The Liberal Democrats who used to occupy this space are confused by the determined inroads into their territory from left and right and have not been able to fashion an appropriate response.

Of course, pure ideological positions remain among true believers and at the fringe with parties like UKIP, and even here they have become hard-line and extremist.

Or they remain with those who espouse specific and parochial issues like the Greens, or the Scottish National Party.

Second, there appears to be little difference between the leaders of the various political parties. Indeed, they have a lot more in common. They come from the same social and educational background.

Most have no work experience outside elective politics and as such are mostly out of touch with the reality of ordinary working people.

Third, the UK General Election has shown British politics to be as tribal as any in Africa, for instance. It doesn’t matter whether it is UKIP, SNP, the Welsh party, or even mainstream national parties; they are all tribal.

So what is the future of the electoral system as exists in the UK today? It has to be reformed, be made fair and more representational. The trend is towards consensus, away from confrontation.

It is towards accommodation of diverse voices through power-sharing. This is a more equitable and stable form of democratic representation and government than, say, a minority government or a coalition where partners constantly squabble over policy options.

We in Rwanda saw this a long time ago, adopted and enshrined power-sharing in our constitution. We learnt from our experience that the imperatives of good governance dictate a shift from rigid ideological positions to a more pragmatic and inclusive approach.

This way, no one feels excluded from the exercise of power. Everyone has a visible role to play and a valuable contribution to make.

The rest of Europe and other parts of the world are gradually moving in this direction. It is the way of the future. The British might be getting there too, rather reluctantly, but eventually they will have to think about formalising power-sharing and not wait for circumstances to dictate an ad hoc solution.

It is a lesson they could learn from Rwanda.