By Anthony Akinola
The essence of every democratic election is to ensure that the people are represented in the Executive and Legislative arms of government by those they have supported in free and fair elections. The people vote for their candidates to represent them, political parties do not do that. In this respect, I submit that beneficiaries of votes cast in democratic elections are the candidates, and not the political parties that have sponsored them.
I make an exception where the electoral system is based on proportional representation, political parties are the beneficiaries of votes cast in such elections. Under this system, political parties fill legislative seats based on the proportion of votes they have polled. Votes could also be transferred under this electoral system, as there are many variants of it.
In the first-past-the post electoral system, for instance, the veracity of the claim that candidates are the beneficiaries of votes cast in elections is underscored by the resort to by elections whenever a parliamentary seat has become vacant for any reason whatsoever. Rather than ask a political party to fill a vacant post until there is another General Election, a fresh poll is conducted and all political parties participate in that election in order to ensure that whoever is elected represents the popular choice of the constituency.
People support candidates for different reasons, and not necessarily because of party loyalty. There are those who vote rationally, and there are those who are guided by primordial sentiments. A candidate who won a previous election in what was a landslide, could also lose a subsequent election in what was also a landslide to another. That is the beauty of democracy and the right of voters to change their minds on a periodic basis.
For instance, erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan won the 2011 election in what his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), celebrated as a landslide. In that particular election, there were hundreds of thousands of voters, especially in the south-west geo-political zone, who ignored candidates of political parties they ordinarily identified with in order to ensure the election of Dr. Jonathan.
Similarly, the candidate of today’s majority party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – could possibly not have won the 2015 election in the manner it did were he or she to have been any candidate other than President Muhammadu Buhari. There were not a few Nigerians who said the only reason they voted in that election was because Buhari was not as corrupt as his main rival or opponent. Of course, he was also a beneficiary of primordial sentiments in some regions of the federation.
Those who vote blindly for party have been in decline in most democratic nations of the world, including Nigeria. Today, those who decide the outcome of elections are the independent voters, floating voters or undecided voters. It is principally because of this category of voters that we have presidential or governorship debates, aimed at convincing them that the candidate for election is worthy of their support.
It is laughable when it is suggested that votes cast for a particular candidate, or joint candidate, based on merit, can be transferred to another person – all in the misguided assumption that votes cast in an election are for the political parties!
When electing a president, for instance, the theoretical assumption is that we are electing someone who would be above party. An independent candidate can successfully seek an election to be president. The President is Head of State as well as Head of Government, hence the nation is his or her constituency. Any suggestion that vote is for party ,and not candidate, contradicts the very essence of the presidential system. The institution of the presidency is diminished by such a suggestion.
Our democracy in Nigeria is still in its infancy and there would be no need for us to rigidly hold onto jaundiced submissions .New challenges creep up from time to time, foreseeable circumstances we may not have foreseen while writing our constitution. The beauty of a flexible constitution is that we can always improve on it.
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