Ikolomani By-Election: The experience of an Election Observer

Posted by on 25th May 2011

Categories:   2012 Elections Citizen Engagement Constituency News

By Mzalendo Contributor – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

There are probably a lot of good things that can be said about the Ikolomani by-election.
Electronic registration made for quick identification voters and it also made it possible
for the officers to identify voters who were registered at more than one polling station
and in so doing reduce rigging. Professionalism of the Interim Independent Election
Commission (IIEC) officials seemed to make the by-election a faster and more pleasant
particularly with the high voter turnout which is unusual in by-elections.

However the by-elections were not without controversy, particularly over campaign
financing and allegations of voter bribery, and this raises the issue of the role money
plays in elections, especially in the lead in up 2012.

The Institute for Education and Democracy (IED) had a team of election monitors on the
ground a month before the by-election and election observers on the ground a day before
the actual poll began.  In a briefing between the two teams, the poll observers asked the election monitoring
team the major issue on which they thought the election would hinge. The election
monitors unambiguous response was money.

The link between election campaigns and the dolling  out of money by political candidates seems to have become the norm. One that is so ingrained in the
public consciousness that even very young children mimic what they see. On the
day of the election while the convoy of observers drove from one polling station
to the next, children who couldn’t have been more than ten, ran beside the convoy
shouting ‘Campaign Leta Pesa’ (campaign bring money).

In any election two things are true candidates need votes, certainly to win an election or
in this case a by-election, and because of high levels of poverty a majority of the voting
public require money for their immediate needs. This has created a dynamic in which the
way campaign funds are used distorts the proper democratic process leading to a situation
where voters sell their votes and electoral fidelity for short-term financial compensation.
Effectively selling long-term developmental outcomes for immediate short-term financial
compensation.

During any election period candidates need votes, voters demand is high therefore the
stakes are higher and voters get more money for their votes, of course the money never
lasts for the five years between elections. After the elections demand for votes is low,
voters already having sold their vote have little to bargaining power and lose the moral
authority to hold their members of parliament to account. Issue based elections and
campaigns are eschewed in favour of candidates with money.  Additionally candidates for
election have had to offer more and more and more money to entice voters to their camp,
and no question is asked as to where the money is coming from.

Even where money distorts democratic process voters are still making a choice between
candidates, but the choice is no longer based on rational, fair and equal examination of
competing policy issues. This may be something we want to think about in this period
when the electoral laws are being drafted.