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Proportional representation as antidote to electoral violence

By Kehinde Olatunji
18 December 2018   |   4:19 am
There are heightened apprehensions about the credibility of 2019 election. The issue of electoral violence, intimidation and ballot box snatching still bog stakeholders...

Participants at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung training for Journalists in Abuja sponsored by the German government

There are heightened apprehensions about the credibility of 2019 election. The issue of electoral violence, intimidation and ballot box snatching still bog stakeholders except President Muhammadu Buhari assent to the electoral bill before him as amended.

The situation is so tense that some observers, including participants at a training workshop for journalists, noted that unless confidence-building measures are undertaken, even if a winner emerges in the coming elections there could be endless legal battles among the contenders.

The situation could be worsened by Nigeria’s presidential system in which the winner-takes-all and everybody wants to be a winner.

Although the presidential system was introduced by the military in 1979 during the Second Republic, subsequent elections have witnessed chaos, vote-buying and intimidation among others.

Given this sad scenario, calls for a proportional representation in government have been suggested to salvage the country from probable electoral violence before, during and after polls.

According to experts, proportional representation would help to reduce, if not completely eradicate, electoral violence, as it would give room for a party that eventually wins the election to carry along those that lost by being magnanimous to give them some percentage in the cabinet or legislative positions at the federal or state levels.

The considerations to shift from the presidential system started during erstwhile President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration when he appointed a diverse 22-member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that the quality and standard of the country’s general elections were established so as to deepen democracy.

During its proceedings (that lasted over one year and three months), the ERC heard from experts from a variety of countries, including Cameroon, Canada, France, Ghana, India, Mexico, South Africa and many others as well as former heads of state, state governments, political parties, state and national independent electoral commissions, civil society groups, media, and the general public through numerous public hearings and presentations.

After the extensive consultative process, the committee submitted its report and recommended a shift to proportional representation in elections for the legislature and local government councils, as well as many other reforms aimed at enhancing the independence of the electoral commission, establishing a special status for women and other disadvantaged persons and re-introducing independent candidatures in all future elections.

The committee noted that the idea of proportional representation was informed by the need to have all “inclusiveness, simplicity and accountability.” It maintained that proportional representation system promotes universal adult suffrage by ensuring that all voters are of equal value, which no valid vote cast is rendered useless, ineffective or wasted as all votes cast nationwide or statewide or local government-wide, as the case may be, are taken into account.

However, given that Nigeria, being known for many researches, conferences, and meetings with brilliant recommendations but lacking in implementation, the submission of ERC is yet to see the light of day after 10 years, with Nigeria still grappling with the same problems associated with winner-takes-all mentality.

At a training for journalists on “promoting violence-free elections by media,” organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, (KAS), a German political foundation and sponsored by the German Government to promote democracy, rule of law and a socially and environmentally responsible market economy in more than 120 countries, these issues were again brought to the fore.

A lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife, Dr. Adetunji Ogunyemi, noted that the system whereby the winner-takes-all is a contributory factor to electoral violence. He stressed that the situation could dispose political contestants to forcefulness and win-at-all-cost mentality during election.

According to him, “The situation in which the candidate secures 300,000 votes out of 800, 000 does not matter and not inclusive in government is alarming. That kind of system can dispose one to violence; I have been advocating proportional representation as a panacea. With this, the other parties will be included in governance and the level of the inclusion will be proportional and it will tally with the candidate’s electoral strength.”

He explained further that if a candidate gets 20 per cent of the votes, he or she should have 20 per cent of representation in parliament, adding, “the parliamentarians can now elect among themselves a prime minister or a premier. Yes, this will mean that we return to Parliamentary system but is anything wrong with that?”

Ogunyemi bemoaned that the Presidential system has been expensive, encourages the spirit of winners-takes-all, excludes the ordinary man and no longer services the Nigerian system, adding that the country would do better in a Parliamentary system.

Citing example, the university don stated that the Parliamentary system is practiced in France where they have the president and a prime minster, “the Nigerian constitution has to be amended to build a strong nation. Building a nation is an invitation to speaking the truth and all hands must be on deck to achieve this. There are people who are benefiting from this bad system and they will want to resist the change but things cannot continue to be like this. The nation has to move forward.”

The foundation’s resident director, Dr. Vladimir Kreck, said part of what would minimise electoral violence in the country is for the electorate to abide by the principles of democracy, rule of law and prosperity for all, noting, “This are what Nigerians need and deserve. Without the rule of law, prosperity for all will become prosperity for some; without prosperity for all, democracy may not last, and without democracy people cannot control their government.”

Chief Technical Adviser to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Bolade Eyinla, in the commission’s news portal, also noted that the country is not ripe for the Presidential system, where the winner takes all. It says Nigerian politicians do not possess the temperament necessary to run an effective Presidential system yet.

“I think a major challenge is the way and manner in which our democracy and the political system works within a Presidential system, wherein we really do not have the kind of culture, temperament and attitude to actually run a Presidential system of government,” it says.

In corroborating this, a national commissioner with INEC, Dr. Muhammad Leky, said the best option for the country is to explore the proportional representation model.

“If the proportional representation model is accepted you will find that there may be no quarrels among political agents at the polling boots or station between rival political actors and parties because they know it is no more the winner-takes-it all syndrome. It also means that the losing parties or candidates know that they would be represented in the emerging government. If we can have this kind of arrangement, and it does not necessarily mean it must be a constitutional thing, you will find that subsequent elections would be better organized in a freer, fairer and transparent manner. If politicians can have this gentleman agreement among themselves, everybody would have been carried along; it will douse the tension that goes along with elections.”

Also, legal luminary and university administrator, Chief Afe Babalola, in an earlier submission on Presidential system titled: ‘Nigeria’s Overdue Experiment with the Presidential System of Government,’ argued that the system was too costly for the country, adding, “Firstly the American form of Presidential System of government currently being experimented by Nigeria is too expensive for our resources to conveniently accommodate. It is high time we faced the reality of our existence. Having regard to the history of America and its resources of the American Presidential System of Government is perfectly suitable for its federalism, which is being operated religiously and in accordance with the tenets of their union.”

He said the same situation, background and history do not justify its application to Nigeria, adding that the adoption and wholesale application of American federalism and Presidential System of Government by the military is a monumental mistake in the first place. He stressed that the importation of the system has not done the country any good at all, adding, “That is the bitter truth. The application of the American presidential system in Nigeria has been nothing but a huge failure. Therefore a decision must be taken on this all important question as to whether Nigeria can still afford its long overdue experimentation with the Presidential System or whether it is necessary to either jettison it entirely or whether as canvassed by some, bring about some modifications to its current operation with a view to making it more suitable to the realities of Nigeria.”

Furthermore, National Chairman, Democratic People’s Congress (DPC), Rev. Olusegun Peters, joined the call for the adoption of proportional representation in electing state and federal legislators, saying it would promote inclusive democratic practice, peaceful co-existence, development and stability in the country.

According to him, “In election under a proportional representative voting system, if 25 per cent of voters support a particular party, then roughly 25 per cent of seats will be won by that party. It is a departure from the current winner-takes-all system obtainable in Nigeria, where a political party that scores the highest votes wins all the seats despite the low margin of votes between the winner and the loser.”

He said that proportional representation enhances and consolidates constitutional governance by ensuring that smaller political parties that are able to obtain appreciable votes secure legislative seats in proportion to the votes received, adding, “In this way, small political parties can have their voice heard in state and federal legislatures. It will encourage people to come out en masse to vote as all votes are counted and count in the overall result and seats which represent the interest groups in the legislative constituencies.”