Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Memo to Electoral Reform Committee

THERE is a high public expectation that the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Presidential Electoral Reform Committee will come up with a workable formula that will guarantee an enduring electoral system and restore the nation’s confidence in governance. This hope is strengthened by President Umaru Yar’Adua’s regular assurances that his administration will enthrone an electoral system that guarantees the sanctity of the citizens’ votes.

Based on several reports on the past elections, the identifiable weaknesses in the nation’s electoral system include the electoral body’s lack of independence, misuse of security forces during elections and negative influence of money in the electoral process. But there exists already an avalanche of recommendations, including the National Political Reform Conference report, which adequately addresses the nation’s faulty electoral process and offers reasonable solutions.

The NPRC, for instance, made far-reaching recommendations on the composition of the National Electoral Commission and its functions; funding of the Commission; establishment of Constitutional Court and introduction of independent candidate. The Conference’s proposal needs to be integrated in the Committee’s final recommendations.

As the umpire of the electoral process, the independence of the electoral commission in terms of its composition, functions and funding should be given clear constitutional expression. While the appointment of the Commission’s membership should be vested in a neutral body such as the National Judicial Council (NJC), but subject to the Senate’s approval, it is imperative that the Commission is directly funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to prevent being starved of funds by the incumbent government.

The Chairman of the Commission should be a person of integrity and should be appointed by members of the commission from among themselves on rotation for specified terms. Political office holders, including the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, National Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners and other principal officers of the Commission should be made to openly declare their assets before assuming office, at mid-term and on leaving office. Such asset declarations should be published. The procedure to verify asset claims for the members of the public to take appropriate legal actions should be liberalised.

Globally, elections are regarded as credible to the extent of their openness. The Modified Open Ballot System employed in the 1993 general elections that made ballot stuffing and hijack; allocation of votes; and other shades of electoral malpractices impossible remains the best option for the country. While the power to announce the final election results is vested in INEC, legal constraints should not be placed on the media to announce results as they are progressively released.

The hijacking of political parties by a few powerful individuals should be discouraged. The reform should ensure that political parties are people-driven by ensuring that individual party members’ financial contributions constitute the main source of party funding. There should be provision for independent candidates to stand for elections if they so wish.

Allowing fraudulent politicians to enjoy spurious victory is a major form of electoral perversion. While all election petitions should be concluded within a stipulated period before elected officials are sworn in at all levels, erring electoral officials should be brought to book