THIS IS THE PROBLEM
Almost everyone I have engaged in a conversation with regarding “delegates congresses” or “delegates elections” have expressed the belief that voters are bribed, not sometimes, but always.
This problem is no longer a symptom of a disease. It has become the disease. It is a chronic disease. Fortunately, not all chronic diseases are terminal. But this disease if not managed well, promises to become deadly – terminal!
Money has become a dominant, determinant factor in Ghanaian politics. It doesn’t matter if the election is at the student level, the district assembly level, or at the political party level.
In all of this, the poor and vulnerable become the victims. They are likely to be victimized by vote buying because their limited means makes them susceptible to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities (which they are entitled to, anyway) or modest amounts of money.
Vote buying is a simple economic exchange – candidates ‘buy’ votes and electorates ‘sell’ votes, just like traders and other businesses people buy and sell goods and services.
In vote buying transactions in Ghana, voters are usually offered money, and commodities such as food or clothing, and jobs. In the past, some voters stooped as low as accepting “bentua” and candles” and in some cases, toothpicks as bribe in exchange for their votes.
While vote buying or vote selling is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge. The persons vested with the responsibility of ensuring compliance are the very person’s at the heart of the market place of vote buying and selling.
Vote buying and selling doesn’t only take place during elections. In fact, it takes place at multiple stages of the electoral cycle and has been observed eminently during voter registration, nomination period, campaign and election day. It also occurs at various institutional levels in the polity – for example, in the legislature, where votes are bought to illegally enact laws that would favour particular individuals or groups.
Here, may I pause to remind you of the infamous saga of five thousand (5,000) dollar bribery allegations leveled against Members of Parliament by the anti-corruption crusader, P.C. Appiah-Ofori, who was then the MP for Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa Constituency in the Central Region?
Political parties in Ghana understand the importance of voter registration and pay potential voters to register to vote at elections. In this process, many people are mobilized in preparation for the elections. The voter will be paid as much as GHC 500 in exchange for the voter card; once bought, the card can be used by someone else to cast the ballot on election day. In previous registration exercises, registration officers were alleged to have sold empty or completed voter cards to politicians of opposing camps and this resulted in accusations of insufficient registration materials. The introduction of biometric chip-based permanent voter cards and Smart Card Readers in the 2012 elections to some extent, helped to reduce incidents of voter card buying.
Vote buying is also evident during the candidates’ nomination process by political parties. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the Parliamentary or Presidential primaries. One of the contestants at the just ended elections of the NDC to elect Parliamentary candidates, Lawyer Francis Sosu is reported to have said that he spent over GHC 300,000 on his campaign. The question is, “on what in particular?”
At the NPP congress in Koforidua, where I heard a delegate openly talking about how one of the contestants for the chairmanship of the party was being miserly in the distribution of cash. “And such a man wants me to vote for him? He fumed.
I have been speaking with some delegates from the different political parties in Ghana. What I have gathered is that many who enter vote buying agreements said they would ultimately defect, that is, by taking the money but voting as they please given the secrecy of the ballot. It is feasible for voters to take the money and not to vote at all. This outcome is especially likely if voters accept inducements from more than one party – facing pressures from competing vote buyers.
The 2007 NPP Presidential primary comes readily to mind. It was alleged that on the eve of the election, one of the candidates hosted about three hundred delegates in his house, gave them food, wine, water, bed and cash. For the said candidate, the minimum number of votes he could count on was 300 plus his own vote. That would sum up to 301 votes. Given the fact that there were as many as 17 candidates, 301 votes was sure to take him to the Jubilee house. It turned out that, he got only one vote. Meanwhile, all the 300 delegates had sworn that they voted for him.
In the context of Ghanaian ballot secrecy, political parties often develop clever ways to monitor vote buying agreements. Realising the challenge of defection by voters on election day and in an effort to ensure value for money, some political parties have devised countering mechanisms.
For example, politicians in connivance with electoral officers influence the creation of congested polling centers that will allow for monitoring of how people vote. In this regard political ‘party agents’ are hired and placed at strategic locations very close to the ballot boxes to see which party a voter has voted before payment. The ‘agent’ will give a signal to another party agent to pay at the back, and if the voter fails to vote for the party, there is also a signal.
The truth is that, whenever a person makes an investment, he expects to make some profit.
To the extent that we all look on with indifference while vote buying and selling goes on, we should first blame the man in the mirror when we discover that some of those we voted for, are busily looking for ways to get returns on their investments.