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You can’t trust elections

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Owei Lakemfa
You cannot trust elections. At least not entirely. My first awareness about elections was when as a kid, I was told the story of how Jews were asked to vote between setting free Jesus Christ or Barabbas, a robber and murderer.

Barabbas won that election by a landslide! Adolf Hitler who is portrayed in many books as evil, did not seize power; his Nazi Party won the German elections of 1932.He was democratically elected. Belarus President, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko is portrayed as another Hitler, but he wins all elections by an average 80 percent with about 90 percent electoral turn out.

Al Gore won the popular votes in the 2000 American elections, and in all probability, the electoral votes. This was before Florida was awarded to George W. Bush. I have often wondered if the world would not have been a safer place with a Gore Presidency which might not have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nicolai Ceausescu won all the elections in Rumania before he was seized in 1989 and summarily executed with his wife. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt often won over 80 percent of the vote before a 2011 uprising unseated him. The same was the case of Ferdinand Marcus of the Philippines in 1986. Blaise Campore was Bourkina Fasso President for twenty seven years. He and his Congress for Democracy And Progress party won an average two thirds of votes. The people, realizing that the ballot paper was not strong enough to remove him, did so with sticks and stones.

The reality is that democracy, which elections are supposed to produce, is like a soup dish; it depends on the ingredients used. While for many, winning majority votes and term limits are essential, the British do without them. All the Prime Minister needs, is to win a seat and be appointed by the Monarch; so long as he enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons, he can remain in office for as long as Queen Elizabeth has remained on the throne.

In fact, elections in most cases, is not about ‘democracy’ but the tyranny of the majority groups. That is why after over three centuries, Scotland held a failed referendum to take a walk out of the United Kingdom. In Africa, Tanzania is one country that consistently votes for candidates more on merit than where they come from. In contemporary history, the defunct Soviet Union was the main country where Joseph Stalin, a candidate from a tiny part of the country, Georgia, was consistently voted into power.

In most cases where candidates from minority groups have won elections, it had often been accidents of history; what might be called accidental discharge. These were the cases in Nigeria where President Musa Yar’Adua died and was replaced by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and Ethiopia where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi passed on and Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgn took over. Both men went on to consolidate their hold on power.

There is a myth that elections can fix national problems; if it can, Belgium would not continue to be on the brink of a break up nor Ukraine in a civil war. Elections cannot today ensure reconciliation in Libya, Syria or Yemen. The fact is that elections are about vested interests and access to power.

In many climes, elections are actually wars fought on the streets and polling stations. In such countries, there are mass movement of people migrating to where they consider safer areas. Even political parties and candidates who agree theoretically, that elections are about campaigns and free choice, sometimes, sign peace agreements to shun violence and maintain the peace. This is however, no guarantee that they will not engage in violence the next moment.

There is the question; in elections what primarily do you vote for; the individual, party or principle? In countries like Kenya and Nigeria where politicians flow easily amongst parties, it will be difficult to keep tab of the parties they belong.

In many elections, the first casualty is the truth. The national coffers is another casualty, with large chunks of resources voted for the conduct of elections. The cost of holding elections are often so high that some countries seek loans or external funding. In some cases, affluent countries assist poor countries to fund elections. The ultimate outcome of such elections, would be in favour of the investing countries.

There is often the talk about “free and fair’ elections. But in a general sense, is this possible in a world where the rich has all the advantages, and the poor, all the disadvantages? You cannot hold a reasonable discussion with a hungry person or expect him to make a rational choice in elections. The presence of hunger in an electoral process cannot lead to democracy.

Again, I have often wondered what court or tribunal you can drag a politician who reneges on his electoral promises. Somebody can argue that there is a right to recall. The question is, at what cost, and who bares such cost? In many countries, this right is a myth embedded in the constitution or some electoral law.

Elections are a means, not an end in themselves; they are supposed to be for life, and not what citizens should kill or die for. The ‘Wetie’ crisis in Western Nigeria which led to the declaration of a state of emergency from 1962-63, flowed from elections. Eventually, the Western Region crisis engulfed the country leading to the 1966 coup, a civil war and decades of military rule. Elections are like rain; even if they are accompanied by lightening and thunder storms, they will come and go. But our country must remain.

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