Political Parties and Electoral Reform

I wrote this piece sometime last year following the ruling of Ogun state Election Tribunal. With the ongoing political chaos in Lagos, you may find the piece interesting – Political Parties and Electoral Reform – The public reaction to the ruling of the elections petition tribunal sitting in Ogun State, in favour of the incumbent governor Gbenga Daniel was not surprising. The lopsidedness of our electoral system

means that the odds are heavily stacked against any opposition. Our democratic system is one of the only few where an incumbent political party does not lose elections. The “absolute” power enjoyed by the incumbent, makes it virtually impossible for any opposition. In a situation where the President controls the electoral commission and law enforcement agents what can we expect? Even in cases where we have had election re-run as result of tribunal ruling, the incumbent still returns to power, even with larger votes! As seen recently in Ekiti State. 

The public reaction to ruling against the opposition although expected, should however be treated with caution. As one would expect, the Action Congress (AC) supporters are always quick to point fingers at the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). When PDP win elections, we are constantly reminded of rigging, violence, intimidation etc. When an appeal is lost at the tribunal, the opposition is always quick to say that the Judges have been bribed. Yes I agree that some of that these things do happen, but the question is, does this make the opposition party a “saint”? Does it mean that opposition parties are not involved in rigging? Are we saying opposition parties have never offered bribes to tribunal judges or electoral commissioners? The fact remains that elections in Nigeria are won by the party with best “rigging” machinery. The difference between the incumbent and opposition is that, whilst the opposition employs the services of thugs, the incumbent uses the state apparatus (Police, Army etc). And from a layman’s perspective, a Policeman stuffing a ballot box is worse than a political thug intimidating voters. Also collating election results at the Police station is more serious than inclusion of fictitious names on the voters’ register. But really is one form of electoral fraud worse than another? 

It was the same issue when the opposition party candidate in Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola was arrested and charged to court for forgery recently. The Inspector-General of Police alleged that the Police report tendered by Aregbesola is support of his appeal was indeed “forged”. As we will expect, the arrest was seen as another “government magic”. Many political and social commentators saw it as a ploy to suppress the opposition, but thank goodness that we are in democracy. The case is now in court, and it is up to the court to decide if the report was indeed forged. My argument on the issue has always been it is irrelevant if it took the Police twelve months to realise that the report was forged. The most important thing is to establish if it was forged or not. And if the report was forged, the Police have every right to charge him to court. An opposition that is engaged in forgery is no better than the incumbent that has rigged itself into power. We need to start calling a spade a spade, and not just an agricultural instrument. 

I understand people’s frustration with the PDP. I agree that the PDP has offered us NOTHING for the last ten years since its being in power. But are the opposition parties any different. What is in the manifesto of AC, PPA, DPA, and ANPP? For me, the current group of political parties are no different from each other. Whilst they may have different names, their ideology and principle are all same – if any! These are parties founded on self-preservation and greed. The parties only provide a platform for people to seek political office, have a bite of the national cake and nothing more. 

We have often criticised Former President Obasanjo and PDP for intimidating all the PDP presidential aspirants in 2007in order to pave way for Umar Yar’Adua. It is common knowledge that some of the former governors were even threatened with prosecution. However, how is that different from how Gov. Raji Fashola emerged? Was the imposition of Raji Fashola on AC candidates better than the intimidation of PDP presidential aspirants? Is that what we call democracy? The Fashola issue has however been swept under the carpet because of his popularity. However, if Umar Yar’Adua has also been performing, then how PDP conducted its Presidential primaries might also have been a “dead issue”. 

My position is that the clamour for “genuine” electoral reform should be devoid of party partisanship. The interest of the nation should be of utmost importance. The current electoral system is not working, and voters are the biggest losers. Let’s not be deceived, even if an AC candidate becomes President in 2011 under the current system, the issues we have will still remain. Then it will be the PDP crying foul. The challenge with our electoral system is not about political parties. It is the system that has encouraged fraud, thuggery etc. Let’s continue to put pressure on the govt for a genuine electoral reform, instead of shouting AC/PDP or crying wolf. The Justice Uwais Panel report on Electoral Reform is a very comprehensive document. However, the govt has been “cherry picking” which aspect suits it most in order to further perpetuate itself in power. This approach cannot be right. Why can’t we have a healthy debate on the report has presented. I’m not canvassing for a total adoption of all its recommendations because some might not be practical. But the report represents a major starting point.

Seyi Osiyemi