In March 2014 the Commission issued guidelines for the registration of political parties to assist and guide political associations on the processes and documentations required towards the registration of a political party, such as Article 8(vi) and 8(vii) of the Guidelines that provides 30 days period for associations to rectify and “defect or non-conformity” established by the Commission in the documents supporting an application for registration as a political party.
At the conclusion of the 2011 General Elections, Nigeria had a total of Sixty-three (63) registered political parties. Subsequently, between 18th August, 2011 and 5th February 2013, the Commission de-registered a total of 39 political parties in line with the Electoral Act:
While some political parties accepted de-registration in faith, other challenged the decision of the Commission in various Courts of Law.
Eventually, two Court Judgments; Federal High Court, Abuja delivered on December 17, 2012 and Court of Appeal, Enugu delivered on June 28, 2016 respectively restored the registration of three (3) and Seven (7) hitherto de-registered political parties mainly on the ground that the parties were not given fair hearing before being de-registered; but also on the argument that the provision of the Electoral Act on winning seats was contrary to the constitutionally guaranteed right to free association provided for all citizens. These effectively undermined the powers of INEC to deregister political parties.
THE PROLIFERATION QUESTION
It is self-evident that the statutory requirements for the registration of political parties are too liberal for the political engineering of strong, viable, and vibrant political parties. Rather, proliferation is encouraged.
Unfortunately, the judicial intervention and deregistration of political parties have effectively put paid to the efforts of INEC to weed out unserious political parties and sanitize the political environment. The situation is exacerbated by the transaction mentality of the political elite who view political parties as private property, with conduct too wayward for meaningful political party engineering of the kind of democratic culture that our democracy painfully requires.
These factors have conspired to produce an inescapable consequence in the mushrooming of political parties, which many agree are political parties only in name. The implications are troubling.
CHALLENGES AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE MULTIPLICITY OF POLITICAL PARTIES
It can be argued that large number of political parties presents a wider array of choices to the voter and promotes political inclusiveness. Nevertheless, without ballot access restrictions, large number of political parties in a polity presents severe challenges to the development and progress of an emerging democracy.
The challenges may be categorized in 2 broad parts:
Adverse Socio-Economic Impact
Voter Confusion: The multiplicity of political parties implies a corresponding multiplicity of manifestoes and shades of ideologies, likely to be too many and diverse for the voting population to handle. This will lead to voter confusion and possible apathy.
Political Party Mercantilism – Mushrooming of political parties promotes emergence of zombie and shell political parties that exist only in name. they become private properties of one or two persons who “own” them. The observation is that at election and political discourse, they “for a price” align themselves with any other political party for a fee. This greatly presents a false impression of where political party elites stand on an issue. As a result of the proliferation, there is emerging, a large tribe of “political parties for sale”.
Financial Costs: Increased number of political parties implies increased aggregate cost of running the apparati of the political parties. Other costs affect political party monitoring and administration; substantial escalation of costs in election administration; litigations; dispute management; and indeed increase in the overall cost of election, and the drain of public and private resources.
- Election Administration
*Balloting Instruments and Result Management: a large number of political parties for an election simply creates the likelihood of cumbersome ballot papers,
and result forms. This increases the risk of errors and mix ups, and the attendant consequence.
*Voter Fatigue and Errors: the likelihood of a vote not representing the true intention of a voter is increased. Voter fatigue sets in, and errors occur. This will likely lead to rejected votes too many for the elected person to be truly considered the true choice of the voters.
*Constraints to Compliance with Timelines: the increase in the number of registered political parties also represents a challenge for the Commission in meeting legal timelines especially the provision of Section 31(3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (As amended) which requires the Commission to “within 7 days of the receipt of the personal particulars of the candidate, publish same in the constituency where the candidate intends to contest the election.” The challenge is exacerbated by the propensity of political parties to submit nomination forms (EF 001/CF002) mainly in the last day provided in the approved Timetable and schedule of activities for election.
*Voter Turnaround time: in the context of long and cumbersome balloting instruments which a large number of political parties at an election engenders, voter turnaround time will stretch. This will impact adversely on queuing time, Close of Poll, and commencement of Collation procedures obviously leading to delays in the return of a winner.
Some argue that the intention of the Constitution is to foster the growth of political parties. But democratic development progresses in phases, and it would appear that considering where we are on the learning curve, the mushrooming of political party needs to be discouraged to allow for meaningful growth of viable political parties which will engender a strong democratic culture. The challenges arising from the continued increases in the number of registered political parties could perhaps be mitigated by a combination of all or some of the following:
*Amending the Constitutional conditions for registration of political parties by providing additional and more stringent conditions like requiring political associations to establish offices in 2/3 of states and the FCT.
*A constitutional requirement for a political party to win at least 1 seat to any elective office.
*A constitutional requirement for ballot access to enable INEC conduct elections with manageable number of political parties at elections.
*Enactment of legislation or regulations to limit registration of political parties to an annual event or to a period of 12 months before a general election.
*Constitutionally empower INEC to deregister non-performing and non-compliant political parties.