Proliferation of political parties has consequences that many may not realise
With 67 political parties already registered and 94 applications still being processed, it would seem that the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) is now caught in a bind as more and more Nigerians seek to have their own personal political parties. Just three weeks ago, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court directed the commission to immediately register and recognise the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and INEC had no choice but to make it the 68th political party in the country. That was because, by virtue of section 78(4) of the Electoral Act 2010, the SPN having satisfied the requirements under the 1999 Constitution “is deemed registered as a political party in Nigeria”.
While it is good to have a liberal law that, at least on the surface, encourages popular participation, it is also important for all the relevant stakeholders, including those in the media, civil society and National Assembly to understand the full implications of having too many political parties on the ballot in an environment such as ours. Beyond the logistical nightmare of administering such elections without creating room for endless litigations, there is also the small detail that a largely illiterate electorate will find it difficult making informed choices in a situation where too many parties and candidates are on the ballot.
As things stand, the schedule of INEC for the 2019 general election is already hectic. Less than 15 months from now, there will be a presidential election; governorship elections in 29 states; senatorial elections in 109 districts nationwide; House of Representatives election in 360 federal constituencies; states Houses of Assembly election in 991 constituencies and with the Federal Capital Territory election also due, the commission will conduct polls for six area council chairmanships and 62 councillorship positions. To compound the problem, there could also be independent candidates with the passage of the clause by the National Assembly which two states of the Houses of Assembly have already ratified. This is a prelude to chaos on several fronts.
At a period when INEC is increasingly living up to its responsibility as a credible and unbiased umpire in the electoral process, it does not help for it to be saddled with an unwieldy number of political parties, most of them representing no more than the personal interests of the promoters.
What is being ignored is that under the Electoral Act 2010, parties must submit the list of their candidates 60 days to election while INEC is charged with the responsibility of monitoring their primaries. But since most of them rely on technicalities to win at the court what they lose at the polls, INEC has been burdened with repeat elections that are needless. That trend can only multiply as the number of political parties and candidates increase. Under what is termed “unlawful exclusion”, elections can be nullified for so many things, including a wrong spelling of names, even if such candidates are electoral no-hopers. Besides, an unwieldy number of parties is also a source of confusion and distraction to the electorate who will spend much time locating the parties to vote for.
Perhaps no election exemplified the mess called unwholesome proliferation of political parties than the 2011 elections when some 20 political parties out the then 68 registered ones fielded presidential candidates. Only four parties made some impression. The rest scored less than one per cent of the votes. A large numbers of them were rightly deregistered after the election. The recently concluded Anambra State governorship election represented another replay of waste. It was a crude abuse of the freedom of association. For many of the contestants, the election was a cheap ego trip. A record 37 political parties vied for the position where about 20 of the contestants garnered less than 100 votes out of the 422,300 valid votes. What’s more, the man who scored 38 votes is now in court seeking nullification of the election!
Even if people have the right to form political parties, proliferation is counterproductive to our democracy. For one, they are, like all the operating ones, not built around any ideology or interest group, but more as “business ventures”. And from past experience, they are unlikely to exert any remarkable influence good enough to win elections. That then explains why the nation must recover its senses. We cannot afford to abuse the freedom of political association and assembly. The nation needs a small and manageable number of political parties.