Globally some elections have left behind some landmark features. In some cases, these features were responsible for wining the incumbent or the ruling party, an example is Ghana. In other places (Kenya and Zimbabwe) it has led to the sharing of power between the opposition leaders and the incumbent president. These landmark characteristics can be a winning formula, an example was the last American presidential election. In some instances, these features have been responsible for many controversial elections worldwide (June 12 Iran and June 12 Nigeria). Be that as it may, these notable qualities are worthy to be examined and many lessons can be learnt from it.
The key appears to be the selection of the right candidate(s). That is the popular candidates and people’s choice. During the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) won the presidential election because of the selection of Abiola and Kingibe. It was obvious that Abiola was more popular than Tofa who was the presidential candidate of National Republican Convention (NRC). Tofa was no match to Abiola. Both political parties (SDP and NRC) won different electoral positions in the country due mainly to their choice of candidates. (I have used the 1992/1993 elections in Nigeria as a reference point, because it was the only free and fair elections in Nigeria.).
In Iran, the entrance of Khatami in the presidential campaign of Musavi provided him with enough supporters. Opinion poll suggested Musavi will win the incumbent, but the hardliners didn’t want that. (As at the time of writing this article, Musavi is still contesting the Iranian presidential election result). In Ghana the selection of Atta Mills by the National Democratic Congress contributed to their winning. In Zimbabwe, the electorate voted Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) because he was popular and was a symbol of change. Morgan Tsvangirai won the election, but the incumbent (Robert Mugabe) refused to quit office. After much negotiation, Morgan formed a joint government with the incumbent president and became the prime minister. Similar incident happened in Kenya. Selecting the right candidates will be instrumental towards wining the incumbent especially in the developing countries where the incumbents have unlimited access to the resources of the state.
A closer examination has revealed that most landmark elections witnessed large voter turnouts. June 12 1993 presidential election in Nigeria had large voter turnouts. Same happened on June 12 2009 presidential elections in Iran. The 2008 Ghana elections where the opposition party won the party in power witnessed large voter turnouts. The last American presidential election witnessed a 64% turnout. The highest since the 1960’s and in terms of sheer numbers was the largest ever. A high voter turnout is a function of effective political mobilization. The last South African election that brought Jacob Zuma to power had a larger voter turnout.
Education, experiences and exposure of candidates have roles to play. President Atta Mills of Ghana is a university professor of law. Before this time he was the vice president under Rawlings regime. Many Americans believes that Sarah Palin (ex Republican Vice Presidential candidate) was instrumental to McCain lost of election to Obama. Sarah Palin was not able to mention a name of a single newspaper or magazine which she has read. She was unaware that Africa was not a country but a whole continent. She could not also name the countries that are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement which are (US, Mexico, and Canada).
Nigerians were discussing about the fact that President Musa Yar’Adua is the first university graduate to rule Nigeria. Academic certificates are now a big factor in politics and elections. On the other hand, forgeries of academic certificates have brought many down from high political positions. In Iran, former interior minister (Ali Kordan) was sacked for faking a law degree from Oxford University United Kingdom. In Nigeria, Salisu Buhari (former speaker of the House of Representatives) was forced to resign after discovering that he forged his certificates.
Information technology (internet, sms/text messages, mobile telephones, etc) have shaped elections. In America, the Obama campaign organization made use of over 1 billion text messages during his campaign. Obama campaign team maintained contacts with supporters largely through the internet. In Ukraine, the Orange revolution has been described as the internet revolution. This is because of the roles internet played in ushering in pro western/pro capitalist administration. In Iran, information technology enabled the opposition leaders to continue disseminating information to the outside world about the controversial June 12 2009 presidential elections. It’s worthy to note here that the Iranian authorities tried to restrict the flow of information when people started protesting the election result. Gordon Brown (the United Kingdom Prime Minister) uses the youtube (an internet facility) for his campaign.
Finance is another issue. As at October 15th 2008, before the November 4th 2008 American presidential election, the United States Federal Electoral Commission revealed that McCain campaign organization had spent $262 million dollars while Obama had spent $564 million dollars. Interestingly, bulk of Obama’s funding came from donations from ordinary Americans that needed change. As little as $1 dollar or less were donated to the Obama campaign organization. Funding might likely be a problem in the developing countries where the incumbents use state funds to campaign against the opposition. In Nigeria, the incumbent buy the voters or bribe voters.
Ages of the candidates seeking political offices are becoming very big determinants. In the western world, voters tend to follow younger leaders. David Cameron (leader of the Conservative Party in the UK) is tipped to be the next prime minister much due to his younger age. Usually ages 30 to 50 years old is more preferable. McCain (the last Republican Presidential candidate of America) was 72 years when he contested. Many voters felt he was well over the retirement age. Political parties in Nigeria should follow this example by choosing younger people to vie for elective positions.
Anti incumbency sentiments or in the case of Nigeria anti god father sentiments can alter the voting pattern. Voters can a times choose a candidate or vote against a candidate on sympathy basis. People can do this either because they hate the sponsors or god fathers in the case of Nigeria. In the South Eastern part of Nigeria, many candidates lost elections because their god father was Chief Arthur Nzeribe. Similar incident happened in America when people got fade up with Bush administration and his Republican Party, as such McCain suffered for it. Economic issues like high unemployment, rising national debts of a country etc can change the direction of elections. The defeat of the Japanese ruling party after nearly 54 years in power were partly as a result of Japanese economic problems.
Finally, the corrupt electoral system in Nigeria might be a hindrance to some of the features mentioned above from working in Nigeria. However the remain the winning formula for credible Nigerians seeking elective offices. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK