Arab/Asian Elections: What Can Nigeria Learn? by A. S. M. Jimoh
This piece was first published in July 2012 in at least two online media. It laments the failure of our institution in electoral democracy. Since then many water has passed under the bridge as per the business of conducting free and fair election. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the manner of our electoral contest. The FCT council election, held on Saturday, 16th March 2013, reaffirms the perennial failure in our electoral process, making the content of this article relevant once again. Enjoy below.
The heading of the article may initially cause a cringe, as pride may make us think what are there in the Arab/Asian elections that we can learn from. And when you come to think of it, they are not politically sophisticated as the Americans and Europeans we have been trying to copy unsuccessfully. To me, it amounts to compounding an already chaotic situation if I advise that we should continue to look up to the Americans and Europeans elections as our standard. These are too classy for us. Let us learn the macro before the nano. Considering that our electoral politics is devoid of any iota of standard, it is better we learn from ‘political amateurs’ first before thinking of the highly classy ones of the Europeans and Americans.
The much-awaited Egypt election result was announced and the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Muhammed Morsi won. Before the Egyptians, Tunisia planned and conducted, in a space of nine months, a highly successful election in a similar charged atmosphere. The winners and losers of the elections are not however the topic of discussion here. It is the successes of these elections in spite of the near absence of law and order. For my country Nigeria that has been in the business of election for a very long time and yet not getting it right, I think a lot can be learned from these elections.
Egypt has been under a farce democracy for a very long time as long as we can remember. During this period, the military council which rules Egypt had conducted elections where it candidates, the now bed-ridden Hosni Mubarak, always won with as much as over 90% of the votes. In those days, popular candidates were barred from contesting, while the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized political group, was banned from politics, its members harassed, intimidated and thrown into jails for demanding freedom and fair political platform. In reality, Egypt never had a true vote until these last ones.
Like Egypt, Tunisia so called elections before the last one, which was ushered in by the people revolution that swept away their long time dictator, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, was anything but election. Ben Ali, like Hosni Mubarak, was a dictator who muzzled all oppositions and was winning ‘election’ with 90% of the votes. Elections were won by him as he was, technically and realistically speaking, the only candidate. The potential oppositions, the Islamic Al-Nahda party and other smaller opposition parties were hounded by the Ben Ali regime. Their leaders were brutally repressed, jailed, some forced to live in exile and those who remained in the country were constantly harassed.
From the background provided, it shows that neither of the countries had held any genuine election until the last ones. But when the opportunities came, opportunities which were not obtained by grammar-speaking activists and political actors, it was like these countries have been conducting election for long. There was no bickering; no pre-election violence; no assassination of candidates; no printing of candidates names in rice bags, recharge cards, etc. Candidates’ biscuits, soaps and bale of cloth did not suddenly appear from nowhere.
Their own equivalent of INEC Chairman and Residence Electoral Commissioners were not noisy about with Arabic grammar. Electoral materials arrived on time. Ballots boxes were not found where they were not supposed to be. People did not go to polling station and found their name missing. Mandela, Mike Tyson, Sam Loko, Lamidi Adedibu, etc, did not appear in the voters’ register. Soldiers and police were not drafted to intimidate voters and abet electoral heist. Elections were announced at the designated center, not in a politician’s sitting room or in government house; votes were not being delayed intentionally from one region because the other region that is the strong hold of opposition candidate was churning out big figures, and votes were not recorded more than the registered voters. Election went into run-off and was conducted. The word ‘rigging’, a byword that defines our best election, never appeared anywhere in the election. And, above all, what was eventually presented by their electoral bodies as results corroborated with exit poll projection.
When one looks at the successes of these elections which were organized within a short period and in the midst of uncertainty, one would come to the sound conclusion that it is we that have decided to fail. But where we have chosen to fail, we would always look for something or somebody else to blame. It is either our INEC would say that Nigeria is unlike Tunisia which has a small population or the plurality of our society did not allow for a free and fair election. Though we are large, we do not have more voters than India and Indonesia. India has more than 800 million voters; four times our entire population, and a pluralistic society, while Indonesia has close to 180 million eligible voters, more than the entire population of our country, yet elections are held here without any of the negativities that trail our elections. And if the smallness of voters’ size in Tunisia or even Ghana was responsible for their high quality elections, Ekiti state is not bigger than any of these countries and cannot be described as being diverse in tribe. A re-run election in a small part of small Ekiti state in 2009 was a big issue. The electoral commissioner was disappearing and re-appearing like a witch and when eventually the result of the election was announced, it was in the midst of heavily armed soldiers taking order from Abuja.
Egypt and Tunisia politicians, out of greed, could have decided to make mess of the elections saying it was a nascent democracy and so they were building the democratic process. These are bywords we usually hear from all organs of our political system-politicians, electorate and electoral commission, etc-to cover our deliberate electoral failure and accept mediocrity. Still facing a serious security challenge after the exit of strongman Moumar Gaddafi, Libya is set to conduct its first election in history in July. I can bet anyone they are going to get it right also. Then, what is really wrong with us?
As a people, we have repeatedly done something same way but expecting to get different result. When you continually mix salt with water, you are always going to have salt solution. It can only get to being saturated, but it will remain salt and water. Our politicians have intentionally refused to change way and are adamant in the refusal to test other form of voting process and yet we expect to get improved result. This is because they benefit from status quo. Whether in Egypt, India or Indonesia, elections are staggered across region and more than a day of voting is allowed for one arm of government election. For instance, the just concluded presidential election in Egypt was conducted over two consecutive days likewise the parliamentary elections that preceded it. In our case, this might be a dangerous example, as figure will begin to change over night. Agreed that elections figures are normally altered during the night of counting here in Nigeria, but with proper documentation of the number of votes cast in a day through the number of ballot paper used at the close of voting on that day can help establish cases of manipulation. In short, everything tends down to sincerity and the willingness to get things right.
It is not too early for INEC to start updating voter register, if we have any, by early next year before the next round of general election. We do not have to close down schools for a rushed voter registration to be conducted. This may be a legislation matter, but INEC can ask for the necessary amendment, as I am sure it will get the support for its intention to do a good job. Also, INEC is always in a rush to announce result without verifying genuine complaint. This adds to our electoral woes.
For the political parties, instead of just looking at the next election, organization and education of voters are the best things to do for now. The present government has enough baggage that if properly projected to the electorates, even intimidation and falsification of result during election will not work for it. Part of our political failure is that we have opposition parties who are in a hurry to take over government without laying any foundation for it. More so, many of them are only visible during election; an indication of their lack of seriousness and honesty. Al-Nahda and Muslim Brotherhood, despite being in persecution for decades, continue to organize their supporters and exhibiting such traits that show they are better than their persecutors. This same ability of organization and confidence building was what led Hamas to victory in the Palestine election in 2006. Before then, Hamas had largely operated outside the political space. In our case, you cannot, most of the times, differentiate the ruling party from the opposition parties. So, we are caught in a situation where you cannot differentiate the amala from the soup
Getting election right also depends on the youth, an age bracket to which I belong (not PDP-type, please). Physical activism and social networking is a veritable tool for the youth to get things working right. Sadly, many of our so-called youth activists are fraudsters cum sycophants who are driven by pecuniary motives. In addition, following commentaries from the youth on social networking sites and online media, you tend to despair more. Our youths are still heavily divided along ethnic, regional and religious lines out of sheer ignorance or jealousness in spite of the complete state of inertia of the country. This pays our politicians a lot who actually are the inventor of the division in the first place. May God just help us. But as I have learnt from my Book of faith, “Verily, never will God change a condition of a people until they change what is within their souls”
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