World-renowned political scientist and communication theorist Harold Lasswell referred to politics as “who gets what, when, and how.” Politics for him is a way of determining, without resorting to violence, who obtains power or controls the State’s resources, and how they obtain them.
The “how” in Lasswell’s definition speaks to the place of “influence” in winning elections, and influence is naturally necessary to exercise state power. Two important, albeit unconventional, tools of influence in politics that best explain how power is captured are money; in which case, we have seen the continued monetization of the electoral process by the political class. The second tool is resorting to extreme measures to unmarket their political opponents in the hope that the strategy will boost their own prospects at the polls.
Around the world, money remains an integral part of democracy, as it is needed to conduct elections, lobby for polling places, and actually win elections. This occurs in advanced, developing and nascent democracies. In fact, democracy as a system of government whose pillar is electoralism can be costly. Financial resources are required for the effective functioning of a democratic system. This applies to all systems, but is more common in the presidential system, which involves holding general elections every four years. In each electoral cycle, politicians under the umbrella of political parties engage in a series of activities to convince the population to vote for their candidates. The logistics and process of campaigning to obtain votes in a presidential election, for example, require the use of large sums of money, and that is why laws provide for fundraising measures for candidates for political office in all democracies. .
Despite the relevance of money in politics, its excessive and unregulated use for elections is capable of eroding the integrity of political processes and institutions, jeopardizing the quality of electoral democracy. In the United States, for example, the influence of large donors in the electoral process continues to be a topic of public conversation, and there are calls to limit campaign finance, improve transparency, and enforce the rules. The same is true in South Africa, which led to a law requiring the identity of donors. Therefore, regulating the spending of the Electoral Administration Body (OGE), political parties and candidates is pertinent to promote the integrity, transparency and accountability of the democratic process, since the unregulated use of money undermines the democratic principles, unfairly disadvantages voters, and wrongly modifies their available options, denying people quality representation in the final analysis.
The other unconventional access tool for power seekers that has crept into our system is resorting to the use of extreme measures including smear campaigns against opposition candidates to reduce their electoral value for their own gain. Politicians view politics as a game driven largely by self-interest versus a call to service. Politicians who wield this tool have competitive tendencies and are also driven by the desire to hold political office to control state resources by all means. It is mainly about access to resources and not about national service. Therefore, it is a political ideology that is based on the ends and not on the process.
In the run up to the 2023 general election, political campaigns are already saturated with all kinds of manipulations, false and unsubstantiated media narratives, and character assassinations to project one candidate as a better option over another. Unfortunately, this trend in our political history has turned our campaigns from an issue-based process into carousels meant to excite supporters and further impoverish the masses by exchanging peanuts to buy voters.
What does all this mean for the integrity of our electoral democracy and the reputation of the country in general? What happens when any of the front-line candidates accused of corruption win the election? Although some of these accusations (whether sponsored or not) must go through the judicial process before any of the defendants can be found guilty, should we not be wary of the wrong signal that the election of a candidate accused of large-scale corruption? community?
As a fledgling democracy, the integrity of our electoral democracy must guide our politics. Because politicians are free to outwit their opponents, this must be done strictly in the interest of our democratic experience and within the purview of our laws. The current smear campaigns that dominate election issues rather than issue-based campaigns are a dent in the process. We must also continue to challenge the misuse of money and the weaponization of poverty by wealthy politicians. The 2022 Electoral Act, for example, empowers the electoral referee to set spending limits at electoral offices in section 88, but one can already correctly guess that there is clear disregard for this part of our laws, given what has been reported. during the primary elections of the main political parties.
Political actors must recognize that great democracies thrive thanks to the transparency and accountability of institutions; therefore, politicians must know that they have moral and legal obligations to disclose their sources of electoral financing and comply with the spending limit established in the electoral act. For example, the Center for Fiscal Integrity and Transparency Oversight (CeFTIW) Electoral Finance campaign seeks to promote transparency in the process by asking candidates to disclose their campaign funding sources so that Nigerians can trust their candidacy; the major candidates have responded, and it clearly shows a disregard for processes that can promote the integrity of our electoral democracy.
Actors must keep in mind that they have a country to govern after the elections. The decisions they make in their desperation to win elective office have consequences for the country as a whole. Citizens must also unite and support the processes that will preserve our democracy from power grabbers.
Victor Agi is the Head of Public Relations at the Center for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Oversight, and a Public Affairs Analyst.