THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
An electoral system may be defined as a process or method through which the people of a given country elect their representatives into different political offices or positions in government. It also includes the conditions and processes for the nomination of candidates for elective posts including procedure and rules of election.
In Nigeria, for example, an electoral commission with different designations, is appointed to organise and conduct all elections in the country. For example, Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) conducted 1979-83 Second Republic elections. National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted the 1993 aborted Third Republic elections. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the 1999 Fourth Republic elections.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN ELECTORAL SYSTEM
- Independent body: An independent and impartial electoral body should be in place.
- Constant/Periodic elections: There should be regular or periodic elections as stipulated in the constitution. This will help to eliminate any president who intends to perpetuate himself in power.
- Constituencies: It is important for the delimitation of the country into constituencies.
- Universal adult suffrage: Qualified adult citizens should exercise their right of voting.
- Voting should be conducted: without fear of molestation, intimidation and victimization.
- Every interest group in the society: All interest groups in the society should be represented in the legislature.
- Periodic public display of voters lists and regular review of voters register.
- Independent judiciary: The judiciary should be independent and impartial and should be capable of handling election cases and petitions.
- Counting of votes: This should be made public and with immediate release of results.
- Nomination of candidates by political parties: This should be done in a way that it will appeal to the generality of the people.
- Secret ballot: This method of election should be adopted.
- Political education: The people should be properly educated about their political rights, elections and about the political system.
- Materials for election: Materials for election, e.g. ballot boxes, ballot papers, ink pad, polling booths etc, are provided.
TYPES OF ELECTORAL SYSTEM
1. Single – member constituency and single vote: This system is usually referred to as ” first past the post” or simple majority system. A candidate has the highest number of votes cast to win the election, Britain, U.S.A ., Canada etc are examples of this system.
2. Single member and second ballot: Failure of any candidate to receive absolute majority at the first ballot, a second one is held with the weaker candidates either choosing or being required to retire, e.g. France.
3. Single member with preferential vote: This system allows the electorate to place the candidate in order of preference. The votes of the weaker candidates being distributed to the stronger ones, according to second, third, etc.
4. Proportional Representation: The essence of proportional representation is to allocate seats in proportion to the votes cast in multi-member constituencies. It is a method used to elect representatives into the legislature. The total number of votes which a party or group scores is calculated in proportion to the total number of votes cast. There are two types of proportional representation. These are:
- The list system: The electorate votes for a list of candidates presented by a political party and each party wins the number of seats in that constituency according to the votes cast for that party list.
- Single transferable vote: All the candidates in multi- member constituencies are marked in order of preference by the voters. After counting the votes, an electoral quota is established, i.e. the minimum number of votes needed by a candidate to win one of the seats, the surplus votes are redistributed to other candidates according to the voters order of preference. The weakest candidates are then eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to the voters second, third e.t.c. preferences.
Merits of Proportional Representation
- Proportional representation: The proper consideration of each vote cast, making the notion ‘one man, one vote, one value’ a reality.
- It is democratic: The system makes for a true democracy. The people are involved in the decision-making process.
- Equal weights: Proportional representation permits all seats to be given equal weights.
- It widenes voters’ choice: The choice of the voters are widened, especially, in a multi-member constituency.
- Proportional representation: This reflects the views of all areas, groups and persuasions.
- It is a truly representative government: The system ensures a truly representative government.
- It permits free expression: Proportional representation also permits free expression of individual opinion.
Demerits of Proportional Representation
- Weak government: Since each state or party is represented according to its population, a weak government may be produced.
- False assumption: Proportional representation is based on false assumption.
- Complex electoral system: It is difficult and seen as a complex electoral system.
- Emergence of splinter groups: Many splinters groups may emerge in the system.
- It reduces party discipline: This is because representatives are representing the interests of the electorate. So, in most cases, they tend to disregard party directives on issues about the electorate. Party discipline is highly desirable to give order to government.
5. Plurality System
Plurality system is also referred to as ‘first past the post’ or simple majority system. In this system, the candidate who scores the highest number of votes is deemed elected. It is based on single – member constituency. A candidate has to obtain a simple majority ( plurality ) of votes to be elected. He need not have to win an absolute majority of all the votes cast in the election. For example, there are four candidates with the following scores from 50,000 voters. Candidate
A —- 14,000.
B —- 13,000
C —- 12,000
D —- 11,000
Candidate A is declared elected because he has the plurality of votes.
Advantages of Plurality System
- Simple voting: The simple voting procedure enables a voter to vote directly for or against a particular candidate or party or policy.
- The procedure of voting: This procedure is so simple that it appeals to both the literate and the illiterate electorate.
- It produces a winner: The system produces a winner after the first ballot.
- It is economical: It saves money, time and energy. It also eliminates the need for a run off election.
- Political stability: It encourages political stability through the elimination of smaller political parties.
- It encourages the strengthening of party organisation: This is because, it emphasises competition among political parties rather than candidates.
- The use of few parties: It prevents the existence of many parties and removes the tendency for a coalition government.
Disadvantages of Plurality System
- Rigging: There is the possibility of rigging the election in this system.
- Inefficient and unpopular politicians: They may win the elections, hiding under the popularity of the party.
- The system does not produce result that reflects the wishes of the majority.
- Unpopular government: The system may enthrone a government that is not popular.
6. Second Ballot System: This system involves two ballots. At the first instance, the successful candidate is required to obtain an absolute majority of the votes cast, (that is 50 per cent plus one). If this was not obtained by any of the candidates, a second ballot is required, and those having unacceptable low result would be eliminated. The winning candidate is then required to obtain a simple majority.
7. The Alternative System: In this system, each voter is given the permission to indicate his choice of candidates in order of preference first, second and third. If there is no absolute majority, the candidate who score least can be dropped and his vote distributed to other candidates according to the second preference of the voter.
8. Absolute Majority System: In the absolute majority system of voting, a candidate must score more than half of the votes cast before he can be declared the winner.
Advantages of Absolute Majority System
- It is a reflection of the wishes of the people: It reflects the wishes of the majority. It is the popular choice of the people.
- No room for unpopular candidate: The system does not allow for an unpopular candidate to get elected easily.
- It produces credible candidates: It produces credible candidates, judging from the outcome of the election.
Disadvantages of Absolute Majority System
1. It is expensive and time consuming: If no candidate won the election in the first ballot, another voting would be required and could therefore be expensive and time consuming.
2. Rigging of results: The system may lead to rigging of election results in order to secure the required number of votes.
(i) The Repeated Ballot
The repeated ballot is an electoral system in which voters vote continuously with intervals for discussions and negotiations until a winner emerges. The system is used in nominating the American Presidential Candidate at the party’s convention/ primary. The system is also applicable when a new Pope is to be elected by a body of cardinals.
3. Illiteracy: Absolute majority system cannot work very well where most of the voters are illiterate.
4. Administrative bottlenecks: It is complicated as it involves a lot of calculations and administrative bottlenecks.
5. Unnecessary delay: The result of the election is unnecessarily delayed if a winner could not emerge after the first balloting
6. Voters’ apathy: Voters whose candidates are dropped in the first ballot may not wish to participate in the second ballot, leading to voters’ apathy.
7. The system tends: to weaken other smaller political parties.
8. Tension and violence: Absolute majority system can lead to political tension and violence.
An electoral constituency is simply an electoral district or an area from which one or more members or representatives are elected into political offices. The division of a country into constituencies is refered to as delimitation and it makes for equitability in the allocation of parliamentary seats.
The following are factors influencing constituency delimitation.
FACTORS INFLUENCING THE DELIMITATION OF CONSTITUENCIES
- Administrative convenience: The need to consider convenience, has often led to the merging of some local areas that are near to one another.
- Population: A high density area may press for a separate constituency even when the area is not that large.
- Minority interest: Some areas have been carved out as a constituency, not for their large areas or population, but most importantly to satisfy the interest of minorities.
- Geographical factors: This relates to the topography of the area. A constituency area must be considered in relation to its accessibility.
- Historical and cultural background: People with same historical background and of course culture should be grouped together.
- Number of seats available: The number of seats available and to be allocated to each constituency can influence delimitation.
TYPES OF CONSTITUENCIES
1. Single-member constituency or district system: It requires the election of only one member into the legislature. This system is done in every election. Every voter is only entitled to one vote. Nigeria adopts this method.
Merits of single – member constituency
- Areas which return members to the legislature: The constituency must be small enough to enable candidates to be known in a simple and genuine way.
- Close touch with his constituency: This system enables the elected member to keep in close touch with his constituency.
- Simple and economical: This system is simple and economical, especially for the candidates.
- It is more democratic: This is because the poor candidate is not at a disadvantage as he would be in a large constituency.
- Local talent: It is more likely to encourage local talents than the larger multi-member constituency. This is because men of moderation will feel more confidence where the constituency is small and their local influence counts.
- Stable majority: The system tends to provide a more stable majority in a legislature than the multi-member system.
- Active interest in the political process: It encourages people in the community to take active interest in the political process.
Demerits of Single-member Constituency
- Representation of local interests: It leads to the choice of men who regard themselves as representatives of local interests rather than of the country as a whole.
- Gerrymandering: It increases powerfully the temptation of legislative majorities to ‘gerrymander’, the state, i.e. to construct the electoral district in such a way as to give the majority party more representatives than its voting strength entitles it to.
- Distortion of the system: This could result in the election of the candidate, (through plurality system ) disliked by the majority of voters. It can distort the system.
- The minorities: They may not be adequately represented in the legislature.
2. Multi-member constituency: It demands the election of two or more members of the legislature in every election. In this system, a voter may be entitled to two or even more votes. However, the number of votes of an electorate depends on the number of candidates to be elected from the constituency. This system generally agree with provisions for minority representation and encourages the multiplication of groups in a legislature, making it difficult for any group to command a majority.
PROBLEMS AFFECTING DELIMITATIONS OF CONSTITUENCIES
Inaccurate Population census: Most of the census conducted in some countries e.g. Nigeria, have not been reliable and can negatively affect constituency delimitation.
Inaccessible areas: The riverine areas of Nigeria are not easily accessible and so cannot produce a realistic delimitation.
Gerrymandering: The leaders may construct the electoral district in such a way as to give the majority party more representations in the parliament.
Ethnicity factor: Every ethnic group might want to have it’s own constituency irrespective of the population or size.
Grouping together of different interests: Problem may also come up when trying to group the majority tribes with minority tribes. The minority group may not cherish such idea.
Dearth of skilled manpower: They are not there to actually carry out the delimitation of constituencies.
Malpractice means bad or improper behaviour. Failure to carry out a duty as expected is also a malpractice. Therefore, electoral malpractice is the manifestation of all forms of electoral misconducts, capable of derailing the electoral process. It is always there before, during and after election periods some influential politicians, electoral officials, security agents electorate, etc, are the major players in this social menace.
The act is parpetrated in order to gain advantage over others, especially, when it comes to acquisition of political power through electoral process.
CAUSES OF ELECTORAL MALPRACTICE
Some of the causes of electoral malpractices are discussed below:
- Poverty: This is one of the causes of electoral malpractices in Nigeria. The rate of poverty in the country is so high that politicians now hijack this urgly situation to satisfy their selfish ends. They give out money to them and engage them in various malpractices.
- Illiteracy: The abilities of most Nigerians to read and write had denied them the opportunity of knowing what to do right. They are rural or city dwellers and politicians take advantage of their ignorance to lure them into one form of election malpractice or the other.
- Ethnic Influence: Most of the ethnic groups in the country would want to engage in one form of electoral malpractices or the other in order to have their people in the corridors of power. The reason is because most of them want to be relevant in the political dispensation of the country.
- Extravagant Spending: Lavish and unneccessary spending of public money by our politicians is one of the causes of electoral malpractices in Nigeria.
- Over-ambition of politicians: They are over-ambitious and would want to be in office at all cost. Many of them are not popular in their constitutuences and so the only way out is to rig elections, manipulate and falsify electoral figures.
- Frustration: Some politicians who have lost at the polls many times, may engage in different unlawful means to win the election.
- Hidden Foreign Influence: Some foreign countries are secretly involved in sponsoring some candidates or political parties in other countries. They strictly monitor every electoral activity in order to make sure that they favour their candidates or political parties. This may result because they want to protect the economic advantages they are enjoying in the affected country.
Forms of Electoral Malpractices
- The use of fake ballot papers: Some politicians seeking for power at all cost will go as far as printing fake ballot papers. At times they conspire with the electoral officers to achieve this.
- Underage Voting: The age of voting in Nigeria is 18 years and above. In some cases, children below this age, have been allowed to vote in elections, thereby violating electoral laws.
- Bribery: This is the act of offering money or gifts in order to gain the votes of the people. This dirty act has almost become part of Nigerian system. Some notable politicians are deeply involved in this, in order to win the election and be in government.
- Artificial Scarcity of electoral materials: Some electoral officials in connivance with some politicians could create artificial scarcity of electoral materials in the areas they suspect their opponents are likely to be more popular than they are.
- They use thugs and intimidation: In Nigeria, some influencial politicians use thugs to intimidate their political opponents. This is common on the day of election or during campaign tours of the political parties. In some cases, these thugs snatch ballot boxes and even cause confusion at polling centres.
- Fake Manifestoes: Manifestoes are programmes of a political party, defining what they intend to do for the people, when they win the election. In an attempt to get more votes during elections, political parties make unattainable promises to deceive the people. Such promises are fake and nothing but deceit.
- Stealing of electoral materials: This could be done in many ways. They may decide to steal voters cards and to keep them until election days, creating the opportunity for their supporters to vote twice. They equally decide to steal ballot papers, ink pad and ballot boxes.
- Rigging of election results: This could be done by electoral officers with the co-operation of party agents, security agents as well as some unscrupulous politicians to favour a particular candidate that might have bribed them. This is mainly to tamper with election results or falsify the figures.
Consequences of Electoral Malpractices
- Aparthy: Electoral Malpractices may cause citizens to lose interest in political activities. Many of these acts of electoral malpractices have been on going and no corrective or punitive measures have been taken, resulting to many of the citizens deciding to keep away from politics.
- Corrupt Leadership: Leaders that emerge through electoral malpractices will definitely be leaders of corruptive disposition. They assume power through electoral malpractices and then govern the people the way it please them. Economic and financial mismanagement could result from this.
- Autocratic Leadership: Electoral malpractices may produce autocratic leadership. They do not do the wish of the people but rather force their programme on the people.
- Loss of Lives and Property: Lives and properties of some notable politicians and innocent citizens have been wasted due to imposition of wrong candidates on the people. For example, the “operation wetie’ period in the old western region.
- Military Interventions: Electoral malpractices can also lead to military intervention. They often come into power under the pretence of restoring peace and order in the country.
- International Sanctions: Nations can stand against leaders that came to power through electoral malpractices. They may want to frustrate them out of office by imposition of sanctions.