A case for non-violent elections

A case for non-violent elections

After more than one week of mainly negative campaigning by the two major political parties, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) towards next month’s general elections, a seeming respite came last Wednesday. On that occasion, the presidential candidates of the two parties, incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan and challenger, Muhammadu Buhari publicly signed a pact against electoral violence. It was supervised by two eminent world citizens of African extraction, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku. It extracted from both candidates a commitment to ensure peaceful elections and good conduct.

This peace deal, if only it would percolate through the ranks of the political parties and their supporters, represents a key step in rolling back the fear that has gripped the country since it became clear that 2015 is a rematch of 2011 presidential contest. As the electioneering commenced, there had been incidents of intemperate use of language by the parties and their supporters with fears that things could easily slip into more grievous situations. Two incidents in one week, the torching of a Jonathan campaign minivan in Jos and the bombing of APC office in Okrika, Rivers State set off the alarm bells. Matters are made worse by the involvement of religious and traditional leaders in the cacophony.

With the open embrace of peace by Jonathan and Buhari, it behoves us to hold them to account by ensuring that their supporters at all times are put in check. The attention of those supporters needs to be drawn to the rare photograph of a warm embrace, handshake and smiles between their principals to let them realise that this contest does not call for any bloodletting for two members of the elite class who have a way of connecting at that level.

It was also good that both men used that occasion to bare their minds on what they considered the cause or fillip for electoral violence. One reason, according to President Jonathan is the practice of winner takes all wherein a victorious party or candidate grabs every space in government without conceding opportunities to the loser. It makes good reason therefore to encourage the formation of broad-based government or what we call ‘government of national unity’ to ensure every party gets a chance. But that of course defeats the idea of ideological political parties and validates the idea of ‘come and chop’ or ‘food is ready’ governance.

I think however that the major causes of electoral violence include manipulation of the system and the citizens, breach of the rules or ignorance thereof. From our experience, the greatest threat to our electoral system is the political class itself whose members would not hesitate to bite their noses to spite their faces. And this explains the notion that election is too serious a matter to be left for politicians alone, more so, when many have chosen politics as a livelihood and would do anything to preserve such ‘livelihood’. 

The manipulation of the system finds expression in the muscling of interests and candidates during the internal selection processes of political parties and often results in pre-election violence which is usually under-reported. There is also the manipulation of the system in the main elections, a deliberate effort by the politicians; armed with deep pockets raised in inordinate fundraisers which themselves breach the law on political party campaigns, with impunity.

With such huge finances, crooked politicians find it easy to buy their ways to victory by compromising officials and daring the aggrieved persons to seek legal redress, which in our climes can often be long, tortuous and sometimes mere academic. This much Muhammadu Buhari alluded to on that occasion. And so, when interested persons see the legal system as unlikely to help them from the electoral rape they suffer, they would rather fight to finish on the field, thus resorting to violence.
By far the greatest threat to post election violence would be the issue of ignorance. For many of the voters, the election would begin and end in their locations. So, whoever wins in their polling unit would be assumed to be the winner of the final election. It behoves on the political parties and other agencies of citizen’s mobilisation to explain this to voters. 

Very importantly, in the presidential election, a candidate must not only win the majority of the valid votes cast, but must in addition score 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the states, which is 24. There is a possibility of a candidate not getting both of this in the first balloting, on which account a runoff election would be imperative to decide the winner by simple majority of votes cast. This fact needs to be explained to the voters as a step to avoiding unnecessary expectations, anxiety and possible violence.

I really wish the political parties could agree to stop the campaigning for votes now but focus on campaigning against electoral violence by beginning to talk more with their supporters. After all, with 27 days to the presidential election, most voters have already made up their minds how they would vote.

Published January 18, 2015

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