Liberia: Why Voters Sell Their Vote And What Are The Effects On Democratic Governance?
Voter trucking is becoming a widespread phenomenon within Liberian body politics since post-war Liberia and is eroding very severely the essence of representative democracy. Elections in any democratic system as I understand, supposed to be an open discourse of persuasion where candidates compete for popular support by presenting reasoned arguments about why they are most qualified for election to office and not an opportunity for elections outcomes or results to reflect the wallets of the most affluent candidates.
By Julius T. Jaesen, II, [email protected], Contributing Writer
When candidates present their platforms, the voters then choose a particular candidate whose policy positions most closely resemble their own set of preferences. And very true, when elections become free, fair and transparent, void of vote trucking or vote-buying, it represents a key indicator of democratic progress. But in Liberia, however, elections have been marred by irregularities and outright election fraud, among which is vote trucking or vote-buying.
The quality of leadership Liberia desires that would enable and influence a better society that works for all and not few lies in the choices and decisions voters make in the electoral polls.
When elected officers become extremely corrupt in the discharge of their constitutionally duties and responsibilities to the state and its people in any democratic system, it is the voters that punish or penalize corrupt politicians through the ballot box. But sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Liberia. Incompetent and unqualified politicians who are unpopular with the people in electoral constituents or counties have now resorted to going outside of their constituents and counties spending money to bus and truck voters to register in the locales they are vying for elected office.
Statement of the Problem
This newfound habit of both the vote-sellers and buyers has a negative consequence on the quality of political governance in Liberia, and if not curtail or eliminated, this will ultimately lead to worse public policies with a far-reaching calamitous impact on the future of our country.
When voters choose to sell their votes to corrupt politicians for temporary financial gain, that choice obviously enthrones a government in power that becomes corrupt and less accountable to its people.
Available research equally shows that voter trucking or vote-buying whatever we may choose to call it, among other factors, brings about poor public service delivery in a country and adversely affects good governance. And certainly, this new concept of vote-buying and selling sadly became prominent after the end of Liberia’s nearly 15 years of civil unrest. In post-war Liberia, this issue has now become a product of political corruption.
Causes of Voter-Trucking or Vote-Buying
Voters who engage in the act of vote-selling or allow themselves to be bused and trucked for peanuts from the wallets of candidates in return for their votes mostly do so as a result of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and lack of fate in the political leadership in Liberia. Politicians who buy votes to gerrymander their way to elected office, largely target voters based on their microeconomic conditions. And there is absolutely no doubt that the endemic and pervasive nature of poverty present in the lives of our people in Liberia has no joke made vote-selling a legitimate trade between voters and politicians vying for public office. Poor voters placed more value on immediate benefits such as monetary benefits as opposed to long-term public services.
Doubtlessly, anecdotal evidence finds out that the gross neglect of the poor by the political leadership in Liberia since 1847 is the main reason poor voters sell their votes. The poor who are aware of the huge resources at the disposal of politicians believes that it is beneficial for them to sell their votes to obtain their share of the state’s resources.
The core reason why vote-buyers target poor voters are simply and fundamentally because they do not enjoy the benefits of public services such as health services, clean water, good roads, and other infrastructure that may be subject to election promises during elections.
A brilliant Liberian Trade Economist and Development Policy Specialist, Vallai Dorley took the view that demand and supply mechanisms dictate vote-selling and, that a greater demand for individualistic goods, as opposed to good policies leads to an increase in vote-selling. Chairman Vallai Dorley also averred that poverty has a significant impact on the decision of the poor to sell their votes. And certainly, poverty had led to the perception that vote-buying is a legitimate electoral strategy by political parties during elections.
Citizens hold the film believe that when they vote for politicians to the Legislature and whatever position or branch, they barely deliver consistent with the social contract theory, but rather it automatically becomes an opportunity for politicians and their families to enrich themselves.
Citizens get frustrated when they get sick and go to hospitals and can’t find drugs in hospitals. Certainly, they get hurt when there is a hike in tuition and fees and the government does nothing to have it reduced to affordable fees that they can put their children in schools. Therefore, they don’t take pleasure in standing in long queues to vote for politicians when they can’t enjoy the dividends of their votes. So, voters demand money from politicians before casting their vote because there is no guarantee that when politicians get to power, they will benefit. Consequently, candidates running for legislative offices who have the biggest and deepest pockets mostly stand the chances of winning seats in the Legislature.
Effects of Voter-Trucking or Vote-Buying
The majority of the lawmakers who are elected through vote-buying don’t feel obligated to the people in their constituents and counties simply because they bought their votes, mostly from outside of their constituents and counties. Hence, when they become legislators, they pass bad concessions and budget that are ill-reflective to the nation’s progress. And sadly, voter-trucking leads to poor representation and bad governance with resultant effects on the wellbeing of the citizenry.
These corrupt lawmakers Liberia currently has are products and offspring of the decisions and choices of our voters. It is widely believed through anecdotal evidence that corrupt voters enable the election of corrupt politicians to public office, and while informed and good voters elect good leaders to public positions
This negative effect of voter trucking or vote-buying has cast dark cloud on the dividends and essence of democracy and leading political analysts and scholars to start searching for an alternative form of government to democracy. And certainly,§§§§§§§§§§§ in Liberia and many parts of Africa, democracy has never brought to the helm of political power the best men and women with the character and foresight to properly utilize the wealth of Africa to develop the continent and its peoples. Democracy in Africa has always been the struggle over the wealth and assets of a country.
Grievously appalling, voter trucking or vote-buying whatever way we call it in Liberia, is attacking the soul and heart of Liberia’s embryonic democracy and inhibiting national development and long-term public services. Many political pundits are questioning the significance or essence of democracy.
A brilliant Liberian sociologist, Mr Ambrues M. Nebo was right when he argued the point that vote-buying impacts policy outcome from the source because policies emanate from an adverse selection of unsuitable politicians with lower qualities who are the products of vote buying.
Criminalization of Voter-Trucking and Vote-Buying
In Liberia, our laws prohibit voter-trucking or vote-buying but the government is too lackadaisical when it comes to implementing the law on such a bad practice that undermines our democracy.
In chapter 10, caption ‘Election Offenses’ of the Electoral Reform Law of the Republic of Liberia amended in 2014 guiding the conduct of the election is emphatically clear on what constitutes vote-buying.
Unambiguously, there are provisions that speak to this menace, especially Section 10.2 relating to Offenses in Relation to Registration Cards states that; Any person who does any of the following acts shall be guilty of an election offense and punishable by a fine or sixty (60) days imprisonment or both: (a) Printing or distributing any registration card; (b) Altering any registration card; (c) Using or attempting to use at any election, a registration card issued to another voter. Section 10.4 sub-title ‘Bribery’ says; For the purpose of this title, bribery as an election offense is where any of the following acts is committed: (a) Offering or cause to be offered money or anything of value or benefit or promise to give anything of value with intent to induce or influence any person; election officer; poll worker in connection with an election which in so doing will tend to affect the true election results; (b) Receiving money or any valuable consideration; promise for the purpose of influencing any vote or cancelling or destroying any ballot paper; ballot box; election writs; a signed register with the intent to defeat the election; and (c) After close of campaign, and on the day of an election, anyone who offers money or receives money or valuable consideration for the purpose of influencing the voters to vote or not to vote, for a particular candidate. Any election officer, political party or any candidate or the agent of any candidate or any person who does any of these acts is guilty of an election offense and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for not more than five (5) years or both. In addition to the forgoing penalty, anyone guilty of bribery as an election offence shall be disqualified from holding any elective public office in the Republic of Liberia or from voting in any elections held under this law for a period of seven years
But sadly, these laws are not followed by the electoral body charged with the duty to preside over the most sacred aspect of our democracy. Both the incumbent government and those wanting to dethrone elected officers are engaged in the same vote-buying in elections. So, in light of this law, the practice of voter-trucking or vote-buying has become a legitimate business between politicians and voters.
Vote-buying and vote-selling are products of electoral systems, the electoral process, and voting rules. Developing democracies would be well advised to reform their electoral system and voting rules to reduce or eliminate vote buying and vote selling, and facilitate good governance, economic growth, and prosperity. However, politicians that subscribe to vote-buying objects to electoral reform that will limit or destruct their electoral strategy.
Economic development can have a positive effect on an electoral practice that will consequently lead to the eradication of poverty with the resultant effect of reducing or eliminating vote selling. Further, educating voters on the adverse consequences of vote-buying may reduce voters’ propensity to sell votes.
Lately, the National Elections Commission will need to be very robust and drastic to the core in implementing the election law that prohibits the voter-trucking and vote-buying in Liberia.