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Electoral abstentions in Africa: A practice that impacts on democracy

Article from AFRIC Editorial
There are many Africans who want to see things changed, but very few of them are in possession of an electoral map or are willing to go to the polls during elections. For some of them, voting is a waste of time, because they generally say the results are known in advance. In their logic, the elections in Africa would be only rituals, special effects and buffoonery that the voters consider only as useless political and financial luxury. For others, politics is much more like a myth where, when the question is put to them, the usual answer very often put forward is that they are not interested in it because all the politicians are licensed thieves and inveterate liars. In either case, the liabilities observed on the African continent do not help too much for the circumstance. With figures of the order of more than 50%, the phenomenon of electoral abstentions breaks all records in Africa.

Still defined under the terms “exit option” or policy of the empty chair, abstention is defined as the fact that one, actually registered on an electoral list and refuses thereafter to fulfill his civic duty. Here, even though it is still necessary to distinguish the abstention of the refusal of inscription on the electoral lists which sounds as the result of a refusal to participate to the electoral game, it would be incoherent to distinguish them in the African context because it is the sum of his accumulated frustrations that gave birth to this consequence. Despite the existence of remedies such as the introduction of mandatory voting that has been proven elsewhere, the causes in Africa are quite deep and sometimes very elaborate.

The problems of massive fraud

Throughout Africa, whether in sub-Saharan Africa or the Maghreb, the problems of fraud have long punctuated the elections since independence. Where transparency is invoked sharply, the systems in place, for fear of losing their prerogatives multiply fraud techniques. These systems do not hesitate to weave incestuous plans for massive fraud, one of the aims of which is to see several potential voters abstain. They will then be able to vote the votes of several of these voters arbitrarily to their candidate by ignoring the rules of the electoral game.
Electoral fraud in Africa usually does not start on polling day. They draw their sources upstream, and this from the beginning of the inscriptions on the lists. To realize this retrograde and undemocratic will, double registrations are often adopted in the face of African registration modules deemed unreliable and sometimes not at all adapted to international standards. In this game of fraud, electoral commissions that operate in the margins of the role assigned to them, are used to help shape the results to the advantage of certain candidates. The commissions of publication of the results are also not left behind because, in certain cases, as we could note it in the elections of 2019 on the whole continent, their ethics, their integrity and their independence are clearly put in question. In such cases, it is the entire electoral process that is contested; this gives rise to a real sense of self-esteem among potential voters, just to help boost voter turnout.

The lack of a credible opposition force

In Africa, the lack of a credible opposition force is for many potential voters one of the justifications for their abstention. The latter, for their own reasons, do not give too much credit to these opposition party representatives, who at one time or another have had to collaborate with the systems in place. This situation, rightly or wrongly, creates divisions and creates a stir with some voters who say that when going to vote, even for the opposition, it will only be the continuity of a system that changes just some characters keeping the same content. For many who accuse these opponents, it would be “white cap, white hat”; and therefore they do not find the utility of going to fulfill their civic duty under these conditions. Illustrative in this regard are the cases of Jean Ping for Gabon who was accused of having, at some point broken bread with presidential family members in place today; Maurice Kamto of Cameroon to whom several blame his passage in the government he fights today as Minister Delegate for Justice between 2004 and 2011 or Felix Tshisekedi who was elected gold international polls ranked third and rumored to have conspired with the outgoing president to gain access to the supreme office. This criticism is also visible in many so-called democratic countries of the Maghreb where it is the systems in place that make pseudo opponents to legitimize the results with national and international observers.

The weakness of the types of vote

Majority direct to a turn as type of suffrage. So unlike these countries, those who have the majority of African nations, following the independence, opted for the ballot chosen for the two-round polls are less aware of this problem of abstention to the extent that, when not However, two candidates in the running, the popular jubilation generally invades the political space and encourages more potential voters, still resistant to fulfilling their civic obligation. Also, in addition to the weakness of this type of poll, we also observe on the continent too many candidates when it comes to presidential elections. In these circumstances, some people fear a high rate of scattering of votes between the “second zone” candidates which dissuade them because they say the games are already made. This situation was observed, for example, in the presidential elections of October 2011 in which the candidates had reached the record number of 23 people and where a rate of abstention of almost 40% was observed. In this case, if we cannot prevent all these candidates from running, we can at least try to introduce a compulsory vote as a balancing act.

The introduction of compulsory voting as an alternative

Increasingly, voters are reluctant to fulfill their civic duty. If some Western states have established mandatory voting to fight against abstentions, why could this example not be followed by African states? The difficulty here lies in the constraints imposed by the constitutions which for the most part in their preamble offer the citizens a latitude of choices which implies for them a right not to participate in the vote if he does not wish it. Moreover, these constitutions expressly provide that “no one shall be compelled to participate in the appointment of rulers”. In the case where this would be possible, it will then be necessary to provide for sanctions mechanisms applicable to abstainers.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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