Lessons From India’s Mammoth Election

India is famous for its film industry, Bollywood. It is the world’s biggest in the number of movies it produces annually. The movies have a huge global audience mainly because of the singing and intricately choreographed dancing they always feature. Also, they tell stories that hundreds of millions of people around the world can easily identify with.

But India is not all Bollywood and its let’s-make–you-happy entertainingmovies. It is the world’s largest democracy. Every five years, it holds ageneral election for the 543-member national parliament, the Lok Sabha. One iscurrently ongoing and is scheduled to last for several weeks. The final resultswill be announced early in the fourth week of May.

The election always attracts global attention because of its enormity.The country’s landmass is vast and has many challenging terrains, from remotemountainous areas to islands that are not easily accessible. And for thecurrent election, there are 900 million eligible voters. It is thismind-bending number and the huge spread of the country that make the electionto be staggered. It is not designed to give some special advantage to onepolitical party.

One major remit of the county’s National Elections Commission is toensure that every eligible voter is enabled to cast his or her ballot. This isone feature that makes India’s election stand out and its democracycontinuously evolve in a robust manner.

Every voter matters.  Every vote counts and is counted. This is amply demonstrated in many instances in many places in every general election. In the current election, a four-man team of electoral officials traveled for four days to Malogam, a remote village of five residents in the northern fringes of the country close to the Himalayan mountains – about 2,575 kilometers from New Delhi, the national capital. Only one of the five residents is registered to vote.

The electoral team got to the village at dusk on the eve of the polling day. The voter, Sokela Tayang, a 42-year-old woman, was not around. She had gone to another village, 201 kilometers away, to look after her sick mother. By 7 am, the team was ready for the election and waited for her to show up. She did at 8.30am. She was duly identified, her finger marked with indelible ink after which she entered the polling booth and voted. No ballot paper. She voted by pressing a button in an electronic voting machine that’s portable and battery-powered. And she was done with it in just a few minutes.

And here is another remarkable thing about the episode. Even though she was the only voter in the village and the electoral officials had completed all the necessary paperwork on her voting, they stayed there till the mandatory poll-closing time of 5 pm. That is what the electoral law requires, and they observed it to the letter.

India Election 2019
India Election 2019

India’s elections used to be notoriously flawed like Nigeria’s – marredby violence and all kinds of manipulations, including ballot box stuffing andsnatching, disappearance of electoral officials and voting materials andcooking the figures to get a pre-determined outcome. Over several electioncycles, the country has greatly improved its electoral system and enhanced theintegrity of its elections. One of the measures adopted to achieve it was theelimination of ballot papers and the introduction of electronic voting.

Since it attained independence from Britain in 1947, India has embraceddemocracy and continues to deepen its roots. During the decades between the1950s and 1980s when the rest of Asia, minus Japan, was under militarydictatorship or autocratic rule, India was the exception. It stuck with its Britishdemocratic heritage, warts and all.

India has remained the beacon of hope and inspiration to all democratictendencies throughout the Asian continent. It is only China that gets nervouswhenever its equally giant neighbour holds its national election. Chineseleaders fear that the flowering of democracy in India, side by side witheconomic development, could trigger serious agitation for political change inthe country.

For all its stupendous economic development in the last 40 years, Chinais marooned in a discredited and outdated communist ideological cul-de-sac. Itstubbornly sticks to its one-party political system that doesn’t tolerate anyform of dissent and challenge to the authority and un-moderated powers of theCommunist Party of China. But the country is sitting on a political time bomb,as more economic prosperity will inevitably lead to the people demandingexpansion of the political space and a change in the system of one-party rule.

Unlike India, Nigeria has ceased to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for the rest of Africa and the Black World generally. Instead, it has become the butt of embarrassing jokes and an object of scorn globally.

As Nigeria pretends to be a democracy, there are some few useful lessonsto learn from India’s mammoth election. The integrity of the electoral processis sacrosanct. Without it, the outcome will be dubious. And so will thelegitimacy of the mandate of the winner be. While India takes measures thatensure that every eligible voter gets the chance to vote and the vote counts,we do the exact opposite in order to win at all costs.

The 2019 general elections amplified the brokenness of our electoralsystem and the bankruptcy of the political class. And, of course, the shamindependence of our National Electoral Commission. The toxic combination of thetwo makes for a clear and present danger to our fledgling democracy.

With the active participation of the military and other securityagencies, voting was blatantly suppressed in so many places across the country.While the same security agents look the other way, party thugs had a free day,attacking people as they waited to vote, snatching and burning ballot boxes,invading collation centres and seizing the result sheets. Weeks after theelections, nobody has been charged to court for any electoral offence. And weare still waiting for the military authorities to parade the ‘fake’ soldierswho committed thuggery for politicians during the elections.

In 2016, over 30 army officers were compulsorily retired without due process, for allegedly helping the PDP manipulate the 2015 elections in some places. Almost all the victims of such capricious injustice were innocent of the allegation leveled against them. The APC re-enacted a far worse version of what it accused the PDP of doing in 2015. But the military officers and their men they employed to do the dirty job of manipulating the elections are walking freely.

Meanwhile, over 700 petitions, including against the presidentialelection, have been filed at the election tribunals. That is a fair reflectionof the widespread anomalies that blighted the polls. This could have beenavoided, or minimised, if President Muhammadu Buhari had not cynically refusedto sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill four times for very untenable reasons.One major provision in the bill is electronic transmission of election resultsright from the polling units in real time, thereby eliminating the existingloopholes that enable the altering of the actual figures.

Nigeria’s misfortune is that she is saddled with a political classtotally lacking real patriots. Those who know that power is transient, that anelectoral mandate – even when fraudulently obtained – is a sacred trust, a callto duty for the people and country, and that a legacy of advancing the countryin the right direction is more enduring than the temporary elixir of politicalvictory.

Buhari has failed that test of either being a patriot or just anotherpower monger. He chose to be the latter by presiding over the worst electionsin the last 20 years for his own and his party’s benefit. If the tribunalvalidates his controversial victory, he would get another chance in the nextfour years to redeem himself. Whether he would do so is another matter.

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