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ARE ELECTIONS A SUFFICIENT MEASURE OF DEMOCRACY?

BY

MAJOR PETER LEONARD DAKA


INTRODUCTION

An election is a decision making process where people choose people to hold official offices. This is the usual mechanism by which modern democracy fills offices in the legislature, and sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and in regional and local government. The fact that elections are used as mechanism to demonstrate democracy provides a theme for discussion as to whether elections are a sufficient measure of democracy. The roadmap for undertaking this discussion commences with definition of key terms; elections and democracy, democracy and elections discussion of elections as an insufficient measure of democracy and thereafter provide an answer as to whether elections are a sufficient measure of democracy.
KEY CONCEPTS

Elections describe a mechanism in a democratic dispensation where all


eligible people cast a ballot to decide an issue or choose leaders to hold official

offices in the legislature and sometimes in the executive and judiciary as well as in regional and local government. According to Ball, elections are
means of democratically choosing representatives in government and many other institutions.1 This means that people choose the representative they think is right to represent them. Through voting, electors are given opportunities to vote for their representatives, change their leaders and compete among
1

A.R. Ball (1988), Modern Politics and Government, London: Macmillan, p.119.

candidates for office. An election is the recruitment of representatives by choice of voters.2 It follows therefore that people vote for their preferred candidates through a decision making process. The relationship of democracy and elections is visible in the definition of democracy given by MacIver when he stated that democracy was not a way of governing whether by majority or otherwise but primarily a way of determining who shall govern by involving freedom of choice in electing the rulers and the consent of the electors that those who receive the mandate should alone rule.3 This implies that democracy has popular base and hinges on the consent of the governed or elections. This is further illustrated by Patterson who described democracy as a system of government where ultimate political power rests with the majority through their capacity to choose representatives in free and fair elections.4 The implication is that democracy cannot be divorced from elections and elections therefore serve as a significant measure of democracy. This assertion is in line with Shumpeter who defined democracy by insisting on the election as a way of placing the government in a bidding process: the democratic method is the institutional system which leads to political decisions whereby people are entitled to take decisions at the end of an electoral process.5 Thus, the legitimate source of power in democratic dispensation is from the people through elections and not from knowledge, wealth, violence, co-optation and appointment. There is other way of determining a winner from a number of candidates other than through counting of votes cast. This is what makes elections in a democracy important and a sufficient measure of democracy. Democracy relies on elections as a measure of selecting the winner. However, whether elections are a sufficient measure of democracy is highly debatable and forms the main thesis for this paper. ELECTIONS AS AN INSUFFICIENT MEASURE OF DEMOCRACY
2 3 4

J.C Johari (1989), Principles of Modern Political Science, New Delhi: S Chand and Company, p325. MacIver (1949).The Web of Government, London: Macmillan, p 298. T.F Patterson (2003), The American Democracy, New York: McGraw-Hill

J. A Schumpeter (1965), Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Paris: Payot, p 324.

Elections are not a sufficient measure of elections because they fall short owing to myriad possibilities of outcomes from stable, responsive and accountable democracy to authoritarian rule. Elections are ideally supposed to be indicative of change or continual of a regime but have possibilities of being blemished by numerous malpractices such as existence of rugged political playing, practice of incumbents lying to the electors, miscounting of votes coupled with delays in releasing of results by Electoral Commissions bribes, favouring of tribal members, vote buying and intimidation and lack of independence of Electoral Commission.. These depicted instances, which are explained in the subsequent paragraphs, invalidates the assertion that elections are a measure of democracy as more often than not especially in the context of Africa they lack freedom along with fairness. Another disqualifying factor is the existence of rugged political playing field owing to the seemingly declared open antagonism between the opposition party as well as the ruling party. Electoral commissions or authorities play an impartial role and as such are seen as part of the government projects. Even in Zambia the electoral Commission of Zambia is viewed as government machinery that manipulates election results. This has evident in the insistence that ballot papers be printed outside Zambia because there is no trust in the ECZ. The other reason that diminishes elections as a sufficient measure of democracy is the practice of incumbents lying to the electors, incumbents blaming either minorities or foreign governments for national problems creating politics of hatred and favouritism. This assertion is concordance with Bryce who stated that the results of a popular vote cannot always be deemed true expression of popular mind which is often captured by phrases and led astray by irrelevant issues.6 This is made easier owing to the governments control of the media especially the state run media houses. Because the people lack good education or good reference points for them to tell how bad things are it
6

Ibid, J.C Johari (1989),p 339.

becomes easy for the government to tell the people how fortunate they are to have the incumbent as the president. This best illustrated by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe where his blame of Western Governments particularly Britain and United States of America of generating economic problems for Zimbabwe has had an electorally pretty successful pedigree.7 Even the recent elections in Ivory Coast the incumbent are as well blaming the international community with a promise of defending the countrys sovereignty. Additionally, incumbents supported by ruling parties employ intimidation which serves to stop voters from voting for the opposition especially where identity politics are played. This happened in Zambia when the current President is reported to have told electors in Eastern Province not vote for candidates that emanate from outside this province.8 In Kenya, President Moi used intimidation to force a mass of Kikuyu living in the Rift valley to areas where they not registered owing to government instigated violence over land. Intimidation was used as a central rationale to maintain political and economic status quo in the region during the run up to the elections.9 Miscounting of votes coupled with delays in releasing of results by Electoral Commissions additionally discounts elections a sufficient measure of democracy. The strategy of miscounting votes has been used in many African countries in including Kenya in 2007, Zambia in 2008 and more recently in Ivory Coast. The election results were delayed Ivory Coasts Election Commission which later declared opposition leader winner but the countrys Constitutional Council chaired by an ally of the incumbent overturned the results and declared the incumbent winner. This was amidst accusations of fraud, cheating, ballot box staffing and intimidation of voters. The Ivory Coast case is just another of the so many instances where the defeated especially the incumbents do not accept defeat. Such rampant electoral malpractices in Africa erode even further the assertion that elections are a sufficient measure of elections. It is in
7

P.Collier (2009).Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, London: The Bodley Head, p 30. 8 The Post Newspaper, September 2008,p 15. 9 Ibid, P.Collier (2009),p 32-34.

view of this that one can aptly stated with a measurable amount certainty that African leaders have discovered a whole armoury of technology that aids them in the retention of power holding elections. Giving Kenya as an example of miscounts of votes and delays ,when Mwai Kibaki won the elections in the 2007, opposition leader Raila Odinga accused him of electoral fraud coupled with wide spread irregularities that led to civil unrest. By the time Mr. Kibaki was sworn in with Mr. Odinga, over 1200 Kenyans had been killed and hundreds displaced due to post electoral violence. Kibakis win was described as coup dtat.10 The incidences of vote miscounts in elections serve to discredit the opposition who in most instances lose by narrow margins. As parliamentary results were declared in Kenya just like in Ivory Coast, the opposition looked set to win the presidency however, by the time the results was finally announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya to determine winner, the incumbent had narrowly won. According to Collier (2009: 36), after the Kenyan election the European Union got upset about the discrepancies where in one constituency serving as additional an example the president had unfortunately first been announced as 50, 145 before being entered as 75, 261 in the final tally. Bribery in elections plays to the incumbents advantage over the opposition since the incumbent has more money and government machinery at their disposal. For example most of the controversy surrounding the election of Mr Rupiah B Banda in the 2008 Presidential Bye-election arose from bribes and corruption. The principal of universality is diluted during elections as representatives favour their tribal members. Appeals by Mr Rupiah Banda to the people of Eastern Province not to consider candidate from other parts of Zambia to campaign in the province serves as a good illustration of this vice during elections in Zambia. Although Mahajan (1988) argues that elections are a struggle between different interests and forces highlighting the feeling of antagonism between citizens and doctrines political parties in Africa, instead of being a force for
10

Kenya Financial Times Kibakis Win Spurs Kenya Turmoil , December 31, 2007, p.6.

democratization, have instead been empty vehicles for tribal barons or cabals of kleptocrats without a committed agenda for reform11. In East as in West Africa, political parties have been instruments of convenience for powerful individual politicians. Rather than help forge a national consciousness, they've led to further fragmentation of the African state. 12 The insufficiency of elections as a measure of democracy also arises from lack of independence of Electoral Commissions in African countries in addition to state run media. The state run media promote state propaganda. Compromised Electoral Commissions further invalidate elections as a measure of democracy. In Zambia, presidential bye-elections of 2008, the Supreme Court of Zambia conducted the elections since the Returning Officer was the Chief Justice and the chairman of the Electoral Commission was a member of the Supreme Court. Election malpractices perpetrated by Electoral Commission cannot be petitioned even if they are who will adjudicate on such matters when the Returning officer and Chairperson are members of the high court? This makes it unlikely that petitions arising from the Presidential elections can receive free and fair hearing. This assertion is supported by claims arising from a sworn statement filed before the Supreme Court of Zambia in which the opposition with drew the petition based on this argument.13 Exclusion of seemingly the strongest political opponents on flimsy grounds as much as they serve to increase the chances of the ruling government winning the elections, they as well serve to invalidate elections as a sufficient measure of democracy. This was evidenced in 2010 Rwanda Presidential elections Rwanda. When Victoire Ingabile, a Hutu returned to Rwanda and announced her candidacy for presidency, she was arrested in April 2010 for commenting on the genocide. She was later released on bail yet barred from contesting the

11 12

Article by Eddie Mwanaleza,The Post Newspaper, September 2008,15 Article by R.E.W. Mbale , Pambazuka News, Elections in Africa Limits of Democratization (Analysis), Monday 13 September 2010. 13 Article attributed to The Post Newspapers Opposition Withdraws Election Petition, , November 2008, 11, p.4.

presidential elections.14 This left the playing field with three opposition candidates that supported Paul Kagame in the 2003 and represented a token opposition to maintain a faade of pluralism when in actual sense, there was no opposition. The above give arguments to a considerable extent serve to prove that elections may not be a sufficient measure of democracy especially in the African context. CONCLUSION This paper discussed whether elections are a sufficient measure of democracy. Western elections in a large measure reflect elections as a sufficient measure of democracy which is all about entire community possessing sovereign authority, maintaining ultimate control over affairs and determining what sort of governmental machinery shall be set up because democracy as a form is not only a mode of government but is merely a mode of appointing, controlling and dismissing government through periodical free and fair elections. However, the outlined vices in the African context nullify elections as a sufficient measure of democracy. The vices include malpractices such as existence of rugged political playing, practice of incumbents lying to the electors, miscounting of votes coupled with delays in releasing of results by Electoral Commissions bribes, favouring of tribal members, vote buying and intimidation and lack of independence of Electoral Commission. These depicted instances invalidate the assertion that elections are a sufficient measure of democracy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ball. A.R. (1988). Modern Politics and Government, London: Macmillan. Collier. P. (2009). Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, London: The Brodley Head.
14

Article by J. Straziuso, Las Vegas Sun Newspaper, Rwandan opposition candidate denied run for office,p 12.

Johari. J.C (1989). Principles of Modern Political Science, New Delhi, S Chand and Company. Johari. J.C (2008). Comparative Politics, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited. Patterson T.F. (2003).The American Democracy, New York: McGraw-Hill. Schumpeter J. A. (1965).Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Paris: Payot. Other Sources The Post Newspaper, September 15, 2008. Kenya Financial Times, December 31, 2007. Pambazuka News, September 13, 2010.