Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nigerian Electoral Commission and the De-registration of Parties

INEC and the de-registration of parties

Our Reporter
December 19, 2012
Nigerian National Mirror

Notwithstanding the House of Representatives’ support for the recent deregistration of 28 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as expressed by the Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Jerimon Sunday Manwe, a few days ago, the acrimony and dust raised by the action of the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led electoral umpire last week are yet to settle.

The affected parties are bracing up for legal redress while critics view the development as an affront to the future of democracy and the sustainability of the rule of law in the country.

INEC purportedly invoked section 78(7)(2) of the Electoral Act (as amended) to de-register the parties said to have failed to secure at least a seat in the National Assembly or any State House of Assembly.

The INEC decision, according to reports, also contradicted the 2002 Supreme Court judgment on the liberalization of the political space.

The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) had in a legal battle with the electoral body, secured victory at the Supreme Court that vitiated the perceived power of INEC to de-register political parties. The Supreme Court verdict was that INEC did not have the power to create and de-create political parties; and that the electoral body only had the power to register the flag, logo and constitution of a political party that seeks registration.

Our thinking is that the INEC decision appears undemocratic, authoritarian and violates the principle of the rule of law. The Electoral Act, which INEC relied upon, for example, is not superior to the country’s 1999 Constitution (as amended). The constitution unambiguously provides the right to association of individuals and groups wishing to form a political association or party when certain interests are shared.

The political party is an instrument of interest articulation, interest aggregation, political socialization and ideological struggles. We believe these are essential features of any true democracy, which should not be undermined by the whimsical regulation of the political space.

It may be conceded that the minor parties are docile and barely contest elections, but are paid grants from time to time by INEC. Yet the electorate’s right to determine what party survives or dissolves through election ought to be respected by any true democracy.

The United States which the nation apes as an ideal democratic model, for instance, has about 37 political parties, though the Democratic and Republican parties are dominant. Britain has 417 political parties with a 64 million population. Nigeria’s First Republic had unrestrained minor parties on the basis of the erstwhile 1960 and 1963 constitutions.

The minor parties included the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the Dynamic Party (DP). Benin Republic has 39 political parties; Algeria, 21; South Africa 82 and Egypt 16, among others.

The foregoing suggests that political parties evolve and not decreed by a ‘leviathan’. The parties’ existence is determined by the voters through regular elections. The future of parties should depend on their capacities to organize for elections and persuade the electorate on their programmes and manifestoes.

The democratic space ought not to be contrived through strict official regulation. Indeed, political parties should not be obliged to contest national elections. They may choose to pre-occupy themselves with local elections and specific local issues they feel very strong about.

It is quite distressing that INEC is still threatening to axe more political parties on account of their docility and irrelevance, socalled. But we urge the Commission to shift its emphasis from hacking small political parties to improving the voters’ register, securing e-voting, reducing violence at the polls and improving on its logistics, especially in remote communities, coastal areas and semi arid regions.

It should expose and deal with corrupt electoral officers who connive with parties to subvert the electoral process. Similarly, the autonomy of INEC will be better enhanced when the appointment of its chairman is conferred on the National Assembly as against the Presidency.

The subsisting arrangement whereby Mr. President appoints the INEC chairman creates the perception of partisanship, and rightly so. The parties and civil society organizations should be represented in INEC to promote transparency and fair political competition, accountability and de-politicization of the Commission.

This argument was prominently canvassed before the Electoral Reforms Committee and should be included in the nation’s electoral laws to deepen the country’s democracy. We insist that INEC’s delisting of the 28 political parties constitutes a setback for democracy in the land and should be reversed without further delay.

It is a huge minus for the country’s democratic process and raises the fear of more such assaults in the future. The electoral agency should not allow this apprehension to be sustained.

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