Analysis: Credibility of Africa’s electoral system questioned

Analysis: Credibility of Africa’s electoral system questioned

- As more political parties join the election fray across Africa, the continent is seeing a more diverse landscape

- However, more and more polls are riddled with vote-rigging accusations, with many observers arguing that the only way of ending vote rigging concerns is by going digital.

- The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa believes South Africa should pave the way for the full digitisation of elections in Africa

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By Farai Diza - Freelance Journalist

Africa’s political landscape has become dynamic and diverse with more political parties entering the fray.

This has seen several hotly contested elections grabbing international headlines. But just how efficient is the African electoral system?

How independent are electoral commissions?

Ever since African states broke the yokes of colonial oppression, independent commissions are in charge of legislative elections, as guided by the constitution.

Heads of state, in a vast majority of nations, are elected using the two-round system. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the first round, a second round is held to determine the winner.

Many of these polls have not silently gone with the wind as opposition parties often dismiss them claiming the elections were fraught with irregularities.

These irregularities include issues with ballot boxes, ballot papers and double voting.

The 20 May Burundi polls drew the debate potline after it emerged that they were wholly funded by the government, questioning the independence of the electoral commission.

The frequency of disputed polls has also led to the credibility of independent commissions being questioned: Madagascar (2001), Ivory Coast (2010), Gambia (2016), Kenya (2017), Zimbabwe (2018), Malawi (2019) and Burundi (2020).

Recurrence of disputed polls

Zimbabwe has had its fair share of election controversy and two years after Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has continued to blatantly refuse to recognise his ascension. He has vocally accused Mnangagwa of conniving with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to deny him victory at the polls.

Chamisa is of the notion that Africa’s electoral system is in shambles pinning it as the reason why the continent has seen a surge of disputed polls.

“With the latest electoral skulduggery and shenanigans on our continent, electoral politics make Africa a huge circus, if not an embarrassment. As we celebrate Africa Day, it is important to locate the spectrum of our problems. The problem with Africa is principally a crisis of governance.
“We have the twin evils of big men syndrome and neo patrimonialism and corrupt kleptocracy. Parasitic elites are in charge of racketeering activities for personal aggrandisement to the detriment of the common good and common citizen,” he said.

He added that it was time for Africa to celebrate the achievement of freedom and independence by holding credible elections, which would give a fuller meaning to Africa Day.

Mnangagwa, an ex Robert Mugabe protégé, has asked Chamisa to accept the election results, but the opposition leader still asserts the vote was rigged even though the constitutional court threw out his legal challenge.

There has not been any dialogue between the two leaders affecting Zimbabwe’s economic climate which is at its critical worst.

Malawi’s May 2019 elections were annulled over vote-rigging after the Constitutional Court dismissed them as null and void in a landmark ruling set to shake up elections on the continent.

It is only the second poll result to be cancelled in Africa after the 2017 Kenya presidential vote.

"In African elections, often stakes are very high and nobody has a backup plan for losing," said John Dramani Mahama, former president of Ghana.

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Too strong or... Revolutionary parties continue winning

Revolutionary parties that led the independence movement in their respective nations have continued dominating elections. This has increasingly frustrated opposition parties who’ve accused them of continuously ‘stealing the elections.’

The latest presidential elections on the continent were held in Burundi on 20 May and at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. What made these elections eccentric was the fact that they were wholly funded by the government and the absence of foreign observers was conspicuous.

Evariste Ndayishimiye of the ruling CNDD–FDD was elected president with 71% of the vote, irking opposition parties. Opposition candidate Agathon Rwasa called them a farce and challenged the results.

Nelleke van de Walle, who works for the Central Africa for the Crisis Group, divulged that the political space in Burundi was very limited casting a dark cloud on the election results.

“We have seen that political space in Burundi is very limited. Under such an environment, it’s very questionable whether they can hold free and fair elections or not. The fact that no election observers were allowed in the country to witness it all - I think that increases the risk for election fraud, corruption and human rights violations,” said van de Walle.

Some observers have also hinted that Burundian authorities hid behind the Covid-19 cloud to bar foreign observers from entering the country.

What rigging?

Vote rigging accusations by the international brigade do not seem to deter the victors. They have mastered a way of dealing with international critics either by completely denying allegations of abuse or simply ignoring them.

South Africa had its share of electoral drama during the 2019 elections after reports emerged that at least 20 people were arrested in connection with allegations that they had voted more than once. The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) denied the allegations stating there was no evidence of double voting.

Observers, however, argue that the only way of ending vote rigging concerns is by going digital.

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) believes that South Africa should pave the way for the full digitisation of elections in Africa.

EISA recommended that centralised digital voting registers were the answer to multiple voting concerns.

Digitalizing elections on the continent could mark the end of disputed polls and the beginning of the true electoral reflection. But which country is ready to go digital? The world waits, in unison, with bated breath for that answer.

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