No, right to first refusal isn’t American

JonathanTuesday Column by Umar Ardo

Before, during and after the adoption of President Goodluck Jonathan as its sole candidate in the 2015 presidential election, the PDP insistently claimed that the action was based on standard examples from America where incumbents are given the right to first refusal. The Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, former National Chairman of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Gov. Godswill Akpabio, Chief Edwin Clark, and even President Jonathan, were all reported to have laid claim to this assertion.

With all due respect, as a historian, I know this is demonstrably false. All through the democratization process of America’s presidential system of government, and especially as partisan politics gained pre-eminence, incumbents have severally been challenged at nominations. In fact, on many occasions, political parties often bypassed leading candidates, including interested incumbent presidents, in favour of more popular candidates. These are decimal facts in America’s presidentialism.

Beginning from 1843, President John Tyler was bypassed by his Whig party in favour of the powerful Senator from Kentucky, Sen. Henry Clay. Incidentally, like President Jonathan, President Tyler was the first American Vice President to be president on account of the death of his predecessor. Then in 1852 President Millard Fillmore was challenged and defeated in the Whig Party’s presidential primaries by Gen. Winfield Scott.

In 1856 President Franklin Pierce was passed over for a second term when his Democratic Party turned instead to his challenger, James Buchanan. President Buchanan himself was challenged and defeated 4 years later by Steven Douglas at the primaries of 1860. Also, in 1868 Andrew Johnson, the successor to Abraham Lincoln, was denied nomination by the Republican Party in favour of Gen. Ulysses Grant. In 1884, the Republican Party again denied nomination to incumbent President Chester Arthur and elected James Blaire.

In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt challenged incumbent President William Taft, but was defeated by the incumbent. In 1976, Gov. Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford but was narrowly defeated in the Republican Party’s Presidential Primaries. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter was challenged by two prominent politicians, Senator Ted Kennedy and Jerry Brown. Carter narrowly won the primaries with 51% but lost in the general election to Governor Reagan of California. President Ronald Reagan as the Republican Party incumbent himself was challenged in 1984 by Harold Stassen and Benjamin Fernandez who together scored less than two percent of the total votes cast.

The successor to Reagan, George Bush Snr, was also challenged as an incumbent in 1992 for the Republican Party’s presidential ticket by a broadcaster, Pat Buchannan, who polled more than 22% of the votes in the contest. Also, President Bill Clinton who defeated Bush in the general elections was similarly challenged in 1996 by Lyndon La Rouche, a political activist who first contested the Democratic Party presidential ticket in 1976, and former governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey. The latter’s challenge was so serious it was widely believed that but for his poor heath, Casey was most set to defeat incumbent President Clinton in that year’s presidential primaries.

To top it all, even President Barrack Obama did not go unchallenged in 2012. It is all too well known that there was presidential primary election in 2012 in which John Wolfe Jnr., a renowned lawyer from Tennessee, contested against Obama for the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. Of course Obama roundly defeated him, but the president was not left unchallenged.

 These few incidences sited have proved that not only this claim is patently false but also shown that our public policy arguments are not thoughtful and well grounded. The truth is that the right of first refusal as propounded by the PDP is not the norm in America’s democracy; it is in fact alien to it. If the party wants to adopt President Jonathan as its sole candidate because of some vested interests, it is free to do so within the provisions of the law; but to ride such false and unsubstantiated claims on the back of America so as to ‘justify’ its action is what the Yorubas would quip as ironla .

Dr. Umar Ardo, an Adamawa state PDP stakeholder.

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