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Elections Law Changes Everything by mbulela: 8:26pm On Sep 19, 2010
By Nasir A. EL -Rufa'i
September 18, 2010 10:31PMT
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As the drums of electoral war echo across the land, amidst barely concealed preparations for victory celebrations, some provisions in the electoral act have game-changing potentials capable of throwing the elections wide open - thanks in part to ‘accidents' like the emergence of Attahiru Jega as INEC chair and the passage of the Electoral Act 2010.

For legislators better known for drawing huge, illegal and unearned allowances and little else, the enactment of the Electoral Act 2010 is an unusual achievement. The Act contains provisions which substantially change the rules of future political competition. It also restructures engagements among political actors, parties and umpires in several ways.

By legislating that 21-day notices must be given to INEC by every political party prior to primaries, congresses and conventions - without the flexibility of a waiver by INEC, many parties stand the risk of disqualification from participating in the 2011 Elections unless strict compliance is observed. For instance, a political party wishing to select its candidates through indirect primaries must notify INEC of this by Sept. 18, 2010. The latest date for a party opting for direct primaries appears to be Oct. 2. I wonder if the parties have noticed this requirement.

This notice is required because the new rules also require every political party that adopts the indirect primaries system of candidate selection to amend its constitution to incorporate the rules and procedures for the emergence of delegates and the conduct of the primaries. This in turn may require a special convention and the required 21 days notice to INEC.

The PDP for instance just recently publicised its guidelines, but did not announce when it would hold the national, emergency or special convention to incorporate the guidelines into the PDP Constitution. With respect to the almighty PDP, the adoption of the guidelines by its national executive is not enough. A constitutional amendment is required which means an emergency convention, at least, must be held 21 days or more from now.

The Act prohibits many of the shenanigans of the past, like appointing hundreds of special assistants and making them automatic delegates. Also barred are consensus candidates, delegates sponsored by godfathers without primaries, and the last-minute replacement of candidates. Henceforth, even unopposed aspirants must go through a yes-no vote in primaries. Last minute replacement of those that contested primaries by strangers that never participated is now illegal.

By far the most interesting provision relates to the procedure for the emergence of the presidential and gubernatorial candidates of political parties. Candidate selection will now take in 37 separate special conventions in each of the 36 states and Abuja, with a national convention for ratification of the winner with the highest number of votes. With this requirement, the supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan must persuade delegates to vote for him in disparate locations mostly away from Abuja.

With the tone of the arguments for and against zoning, I do not see how the president can prevail in more than one or two out of the 19 northern states. How the Goodluck team and some media outlets are already declaring victory and expecting his coronation in the upcoming PDP primaries remain a mystery to many unless he faces several candidates from that geographical zone.

The same risk to incumbents applies to the governors who will emerge from special congresses in each local government of their respective states.

Without the delegate selections held in one central location, for persuasion, bribery and intimidation as appropriate, how they ultimately vote is truly difficult to control by the once-invincible governors!

For the indirect primaries, the winner that emerges in the congresses and conventions does not require a majority of half of the votes plus one but simply the highest number of votes cast. This provision means no run-offs will ever be necessary as the first past the post wins. I was therefore amused to see provisions for run-off in the published guidelines of one of the political parties ­ the PDP.

The Act has also legislated the order of elections to put the governors at a disadvantage. The attrition rate in the National Assembly has been high averaging 80% in each electoral cycle. As an example, in my home state of Kaduna, only one member, Ado Audu Dogo, has been in the House of Representatives since 1999! By scheduling their elections first, and the governors last, the legislators have extracted their revenge and hope to reduce the manipulation their elections have suffered due to gubernatorial interference.

In the event a political party adopts the direct primaries system, party members must be given equal opportunity to vote directly for the candidates to various offices without the need to elect delegates. This further devolves power away from party apparatchiks to the membership and cuts the delegate middleman. It is doubtful if any party will choose this as it completely eliminates the control of outcomes of primaries from the leaders of the various parties. Clearly, a direct primaries system is the better, more democratic system that will be more prevalent in the long run.

So for those planning victory laps before the race proper, it may be helpful to read the Electoral Act again.

El-Rufai is a former minister of the FCT and a member of the PDP

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