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‘Multiple parties present some drawbacks, pitfalls for voters’

By Samson Ezea
27 June 2018   |   4:01 am
Akwa Ibom Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini speaks on the 2019 general elections and other topical issues surrounding it. SAMSON EZEA reports. Fragmented opposition and too many political parties Ordinarily, it is the task of INEC to promote the electoral participation of as many Nigerians in the political process as possible in their diversity. This…


Akwa Ibom Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini speaks on the 2019 general elections and other topical issues surrounding it. SAMSON EZEA reports.

Fragmented opposition and too many political parties

Ordinarily, it is the task of INEC to promote the electoral participation of as many Nigerians in the political process as possible in their diversity.

This is in keeping with the parameters for judging the norms of credible and acceptable elections, which are: undeterred participation of stakeholders, free and unfettered competition between political groups and the legitimacy of the outcome of elections.

Still it is also the mandate of INEC to point out the pitfalls of some democratic practices, so that election stakeholders should be well aware of the consequences of certain individual and group decision-making on the overall political arena and political processes, especially as they pertain to elections, which is our primary concern and as they affect the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria as our overarching raison detre as a commission.

For the above reason, one must point out that although it is best for the policy options open to voters to be diverse, most voters often do not have the analytical sophistication to sieve through the differences of so many political groups.

This can make decision-making at the ballot very tedious, if political parties vying for a position are too many, and where many have not clearly articulated their visions and policy missions in communication media that are easy for voters to understand.

In this respect, the fears and concerns you expressed may be valid points.

This is not only an anecdotal concern, but as a matter of scientific fact, the fields of political science and mathematics concern with voting outcomes under plural and multi-party election outcomes have expressed similar positions with respect to possible effects of too many contestants on the ballot.

Those who are familiar with some political science theories and hypotheses such as the Duverger’s Hypothesis or the Duverger’s equilibra, the Condocert hypothesis, the Nath-Bayes hypothesis, the Condocert winner or Condocert loser hypothesis, Borda’s theory, Arrow’s Theorem, among others, have come to the understanding that using the game theory mathematical variables with increasing number of contestants in a ballot, the resulting outcome of elections tends to favour the aggregation of votes towards the two leading parties.

Duverger’s comparative survey of party systems investigated the sources of dualism, or the concentration of political party activity in two main parties.

It contends that national factors explain a great deal, but two-party systems are invariably associated with a particular type of institutional arrangement: the single-member district, plurality electoral system.

Hence it suggests that ‘Dualist countries use the simple-majority vote and simple-majority vote countries are dualist’.

Simply explained, especially in the case of the American-style Presidential elections that we run, what Duverger’s law, which is a hypothesis first propounded by the Frenchman Maurice Duverger in the early 1950s and made popular by Gary Cox in an influential 1997 book, Making Votes Count, suggests that, voters knowing that only the top two parties are real contenders, often aggregate their votes around such parties deciding not to ‘waste’ their one and only vote on supporting an ‘also-ran party’ that is going to come in at a third, fourth or lower place.

Hence, this decision-making pressure to make a difference pushes voters instead to back the top two that they may not really like and leave the rest to wither.

Although, some scientists have countered the validity of the law by using countries such as Canada which tended to disperse votes hence forcing coalitions as a negation of the law, however, it remains a possibility in our well over 68 parties context given the close contextual arrangements of the Nigerian system to the American voting system.

I strongly advise against too much multiplicity of parties and the pitfalls thereof especially where the system has choked off the oxygen for other parties to flourish at the local government levels from where they could have built statewide, zonal or national support gradually due to absence of real elections in the 774 LGAs in Nigeria.

What are the likely logistic and balloting concerns, where over 68 or more parties are on a ballot paper for the 2019 election?

With many political parties there are benefits and costs.

The benefits are that more parties offer more choices, political parties mobilise voters around a common set of interests or ideologies.

So more parties do not only help to satisfy the constitutional right of section 40 regarding freedom of association and participation in political activities it also help more voters to find political parties that closely match their beliefs and aspirations.

On the other hand the cost of too many political parties with different logos and colours presents some drawbacks and practical pitfalls for voters especially where many of the voters across Nigeria are largely rural voters where there is no consistency of televised messaging.

For instance, how many of my people in Kokori in Delta state or Akwa lbomites can identify these numerous party logos?

Many voters are unable to differentiate parties with similar or close names or logos even among the elites resulting in wrong thumb-printing and invalid votes when they have to search through a ballot paper with 68 names and more.

Too many political parties also fragment capable candidates both for the new parties and the older parties from where some people are likely to join the new parties.

It will also fragment the votes of existing and new parties because there will be a situation where several political parties will be promoting similar policies, ideologies and agenda.

Excessive fragmentation has drawbacks because as parties subdivide, the country become harder to govern, polarization along ethnic, religious and other fault-lines increases as fringe parties harden along such agenda to gain the support of some large voting bloc, even when such agenda may be counterproductive to national cohesion.

Where bigger parties are willing and responsive to public opinion to embark on reform and throw up new set of actors with new ideas and values in tandem with prevailing public desires and expectations, they may get things done better than a coalition of smaller parties, where discipline may be a tougher challenge, often because it may include strange bedfellows as we see in Nigeria.

So instead of increasing real choices, multiplying parties would make room for politicians to hide the fact that what they are actually doing is using the parties as vehicles to gain patronage rather than meeting the policy needs of voters.

So except we have regional autonomy of federating units where the diversity of parties will create diversities that can meet specific regional needs and therefore reduce the central fissional tendencies, the multiplicity of parties will only increase the fight for the jackpot at the centre where political relevance is most important to gain ground locally.

Therefore, peripherally if we allow more governance devolution multiple parties can have benefits, but where devolution is asphyxiated, the entire political struggle will end up at the center with the pitfalls I have highlighted as we approach 2019 election.

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