Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Detecting and deterring electoral fraud and malpractices in Africa

Tuesday, 30 June 2015
By Ferran Martínez i Coma
Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Following the launch of EIP’s report Electoral Integrity in Africa, the Hanns Seidel Foundation's Conference on Electoral Integrity in Africa kicked off with a two-day day program focusing on the role of political parties in detecting and deterring electoral fraud and malpractice in Africa.
The program and presentations were of very high quality, and hold many valuable insights For those working in this field. This piece intends to capture a few of the key arguments and lessons.

After the introductory remarks by Graham Hopwood from the Institute for Public Policy Research in Namibia, Dr Brigalia Bam, former Chairperson of the South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, and Professor Jørgen Elklit, from Aarhus University, took the floor for the first presentation of the day. They presented on the role of political parties in promoting electoral integrity in Africa. Bam’s key message was that that electoral fraud should not be seen as an exceptionally African phenomenon, but that measures to detect and deter it should be informed by context-specific variables. She also spoke about the impact of electoral observer missions, and argued that missions could be better understood if there was room for reciprocity, primarily between those operating in African states and their Western counterparts. 
Professor Elkit departed from this premise, arguing that we cannot expect political parties to contribute or promote electoral integrity. In his view parties, in the end, are organisations trying to maximize power. Hence in order to assure that parties promote electoral integrity, it must be establishing structures that make it in their own best interest. Elklit concluded by proposing measures that would allow parties to teach members, supporters, party agents and the public to behave in an orderly way and cooperate with the Election Mission Bodies.

Day one: Unpacking electoral integrity in Southern Africa

Following these presentations the remainder of the day was dedicated to presentations with a country-specific focus on Southern Africa:
  • Dr. Collette Schulz‐Herzenberg presented preliminary data from the Comparative National Elections Projects. These meshed well with the conclusion of EIP’s edited volume Advancing Electoral Integrity: citizens tend to be more likely to perceive a greater supply of democracy and express satisfaction with the way democracy is working when they consider the elections to be free and fair, and electoral institutions to be trustworthy.
  • Miguel de Brito from EISA subsequently explained why Mozambique performs so badly when holding elections. As is illustrated in EIP’s report Electoral Integrity in Africa, de Brito observed that in Mozambique, some malpractice is systemic and systematic while other is individual and opportunistic. He explained that initiatives to improve such situation should include a combination of education, unequivocal enforcement of the law, and punishment / penalties. Moreover improved monitoring by political parties, media and citizens alike would also help uncover and draw attention to both systemic and opportunistic malpractice and fraud. 
  • Graham Hopwood spoke about the last elections in Namibia, which was its first national political contest using electronic voting machines. Though victory was accepted and the electoral process was not questioned, some major problems and deficiencies. These include long queues – the the hours spent in line proved an obstacle for many, particularly for women with children. Morover the polling stations inconsistently adhered to the 21:00 closure rule, meaning that in some cases people who had been queuing were allowed to cast their vote, while others were not. To add insult to injury, it has been reported that in various locations mobile polling stations never arrived or arrived late.
  • Dr. Neo Simutanyi from the Center for Policy Dialogue explained that Zambia’s elections have been controversial since 2001, and that electoral fraud and malpractices have dominated Zambia’s political discourse. Examples of irregularities include the State’s use of patronage resources (vote-buying), buying of voter’s cards to disenfranchise voters, and unusually large number of invalid or spoilt votes in opposition areas. 
  • Tom Wolf, representing IPSOS in Kenya, presented his work on the circumstances in which an incumbent elite is prepared to ‘lose’ an election and give up power. He argued that in calculating the costs or benefits of refusing to ‘lose’, incumbent elites consider various factors, such as the degree to which pre-election manipulation and/or electoral fraud can be concealed, the likelihood of violent protests or external/donor ‘punishment’, the likelihood of suffering inacceptable individual punishment, and the likelihood of the new government pursuing ‘misguided’ policies if a fair election results in defeat.
  • Kizito Tenthani from the Centre for Multiparty Democracy in Malawi gave a detailed assessment of Malawi’s state of democracy, covering matters ranging from the current political situation in Malawi to the role and performance of the electoral commission, its administration, the elections, its results and the management of such results.
  • In the afternoon, I had the pleasure of chairing the session in which Olufunto Akinduro from EISA, spoke about the electoral process in Nigeria. Providing an overview about the electoral process in the latest elections, she noted that five elections have been held in Nigeria since 1999. The 1999 election was acceptable, whereas the 2003 contest was not credible, and 2007 saw the worst election to date. This election acted as a turning point, leading to the ERC and constitution amendment aimed at increasing integrity in the 2011 elections. The 2015 election was the most competitive in Nigeria’s history, with the exception of the controversial 1983 elections.
  • Then, the floor was for Dr. Motlamelle Kapa from the University of Lesotho who noted that in 2001, the MMP system was adopted expanding the inclusiveness of parliament and a virtual elimination of claims of fraud and that all parties have relatively equitable access to state resources like state-owned media and party and campaign funding. 
  • Finally, Professor Sheila Bunwaree from University of Mauritius talked about a necessary holistic approach in addressing fraud and malpractice. Moreover, she mentioned that although there have been nine general elections since independence, the last 2014 general election revived the debate on the ‘funding of political parties’, which remains shrouded in opacity. 
Day two: A broader discussion on electoral integrity in Africa

The second day, the conference moved onto more general issues related to electoral integrity. 
In the first session we covered electoral violence and conflict management panels.
  • Gareth Newham, representing ISS, showed different maps on patterns of electoral violence in South Africa. He showed that during the 2013-2014 period, 7% of all protests were election related (153 events), of which 63% were violent. 29% of all election protests were in Gauteng, 22% in the Western Cape and 16% in the Eastern Cape. 63% took place in metro areas, 19% in urban areas and 18% in rural areas. The 2014 elections proved that protest hotspots are not always predictable: they develop over time and initial triggers vary widely.
  • Ilona Tip, from EISA, spoke about conflict management practices. She mentioned that her organization has learnt a number of lessons, including that working closely with the EMB builds trust, the importance of adequate training; and the need for agreement of mediators by stakeholders. She concluded that any mechanism for preventing, managing and resolving election conflict can only be effectively implemented if there is agreement on the rules of the game. 
  • Professor Shaheen Mozaffar, from Bridgewater State University, explained that elections magnify existing conflicts unrelated to elections, for example the land issues prevalent in Cote-d’Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Such violence takes the form of short-term episodes directly related to election events, but may have long-term consequences, which is why it is an important focus of analysis and policy intervention. He also stressed a paradox: in essence, elections are organized uncertainties because their outcomes cannot and should not be known ex ante. The paradox is that substantive uncertainty requires procedural certainty. It is this paradox that defines the central task of electoral governance: organizing electoral uncertainty by providing institutional certainty. As a way forward, Professor Mozaffar suggested to incorporate the EIP framework and insights presented in Electoral Integrity in Africa into future analysis, assessments and policy designs. 
  • Finally, Professor Jørgen Elklit, having served the Kiegler Commission, spoke about his impressions about the outbreak of electoral violence in Kenya. He witnessed firsthand the poor quality of the voting register. Whilst many new voters were registered during 2006 and 2007, more than 25% of the voting age population were not registered, and women and youth were particularly under-registered. Also, many deceased voters (close to 1 million) remained on the voters’ roll and many of them were shown to have voted. Moreover, there were various inconsistencies, and when malpractice and misunderstandings are perceived as rigging, this can result in violence. 
The topic of the second session was on ballot fraud and party agents.
  • Ebrahim Fakir, representing EISA, exposed some recent incidents of electoral fraud in South Africa such as irregular registration in a municipal by-election in Abaqulusi, in northern KwaZulu-Natal; the use of false addresses in Potchefstroom (Tlokwe); and the use of marked ballot boxes filled with ballot papers in Alexandra township.
  • Miguel de Brito, also from EISA, explained that in Mozambique party agents are potentially the most important oversight element in the electoral process, depending on their numbers, powers and access. However, their impact is limited by lack of quality, training, resources, support and commitment. 
  • Naita Hishoono, from the Namibia Institute of Democracy, presented the results of a survey that administered on the 16 political parties that participated and experienced the 2014 election in Namibia. Although some parties did not offer any feedback, a common complaint was the need to clearly delineate the roles of poling staff and police officers on duty at the polling stations. 
  • Tom Mboya, from the Democratic Congress in Kenya, explained how the country has experienced two questionable elections in a row. During both contests, administered by two different EMBs, voting went well, only for the process to collapse at the tallying stage. He emphasised that the recruitment and training of party agents is critical to ensuring the integrity of vote. He also noted that party die-hards and sycophants are not necessarily the answer, but that it is important to invest in party agents and institutionalize their role.
The final session of the day focused on electoral disputes and multi-party liaison committees.
  • MP Haniff Hoosen, from the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, presented his views as he noted that free and fair elections are not an event, but a process leading up to the event. He emphasised that the role of the IEC is key to this. He explained that in his experience, an electoral commission can only function as an institution that facilitates the provisions of democratic systems if it provides the leadership and direction that commands citizens’ respect and trust. It’s alternative is to be reduced to a mere administrative tool on Election Day.
  • Libolly Haufiku, from the Rally for Democracy and Progress in Namibia gave a presentation on his experience on the role of the judiciary. 
  •  This last session was closed with the research on Ghana by Halfdan Lynge-Mangueira from Oxford University. He noted that according to the literature, challenging an African election in court makes little sense, as it is an expensive and time-consuming avenue with few benefits. Although it is very rare for a judiciary to overturn an election, there are examples where this has happened (Kenya 2013, Ghana 2012 and Nigeria 2011). Halfdan’s research looks at the content of such challenges. In total there have been 26 challenges (5% of all elections) parliamentary elections in Ghana go to court. His analysis shows that the probability that elections are challenged is higher when won by an NDC candidate (1.2%-point – recall that only 5% of all elections are challenged); and that the probability that elections are challenged is higher when win-margins are small. In his view, one of the secrets to Ghana’s success is the high level of competition between well-organized parties, decentralization, and delegation of responsibility to the party agents.
Overall, the conference proved to be informative and productive. We will continue collaborating with our African colleagues and with HSF.

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