Election rigging is a bad habit, but sometimes it can be a good thing too

As the March 4 elections in Kenya approach, candidates have been making claims to the effect that fishy things are going on. Some have alleged that the election is being rigged by top security and government officials in favour of their opponents.

Others have even insinuated that that plans are in the pipeline to get their supporters so hopelessly drunk that they will be unable to show up to vote. Yet others have accused rivals of using big money to buy the election.

It is time to face some inconvenient truths about polls. Election theft is terrible, and has resulted in bloodletting in several African countries. However, the reverse is also true; an election that is not worth stealing is not worth holding.

Because of the importance of polls, for more than a century, politicians and political parties in areas like the US, Asia, Latin America and Africa have done their best to steal them.

Since election rigging is a certainty, we have evolved many means of preventing it. The first is to appoint independent electoral commissions. Such commissions appointed by the president from among his cronies will only rig elections in his favour.

To address cheating, we have voter registers. To register, one requires an official ID. Why? Because if there are no IDs, many people will register as many as 10 times with the aim of voting 10 times!

To prevent that, we have indelible ink that voters dip their finger into after they have cast their ballots so that they don’t come back to vote.

As an additional check, election laws allow parties and candidates to have their agents at polling stations to look out for such miscreants.

It doesn’t end there. When voting is done, there is the counting. This is the stage where vote stealing takes place so to curb ballot pilfery, again we allow candidates’ and party agents to be on the lookout.

In a normal situation, that would be enough. However, party agents are often bribed to betray their candidates, and even after the votes are counted, the numbers can still be manipulated. That is why, in Fraudulent result

African elections, both local and international observers are important. They are the ones who, hopefully, arrest this late fraud.

But even election observers at times are not of help. They can still give an election a clean bill of health even if it is not. This is what the Commonwealth Observer Group did during the Uganda election of December 1980.

Once everyone, including international observers, had given the election an okay, the last group left to do anything about it was, again, the people. In Uganda’s case, the loser, Yoweri Museveni led about 30 people to the bush.

They raided a rural military barracks and started an armed rebellion until they took power in 1986.

Of course, Mr Museveni himself has been fiddling the vote since then, but the point here is that if all these other measures human beings have evolved to stop rigging fail, usually the only fear left is that that people will reject a fraudulent result.

So if you ever have an election that no one wants to steal, then you are probably wasting your time voting. And because every important election is worth rigging, smart candidates go to great lengths to ensure they are not sucker-punched on voting day.

Which leaves us with the issue of cash during polls. Elections are, partly, a vast redistribution exercise. Voters get free soap, sugar, salt and chang’aa (traditional brew). Musicians and dancers do roaring trade. Printers work overtime making campaign posters.

Fuel sales skyrocket as politicians and their hangers-on traverse the country. It is the busiest time in every five years for opinion pollsters.

TV channels notch up record ratings, newspaper circulations go through the roof, and it is a bonanza of advertising as candidates and electoral commissions buy acres of space to advertise themselves and polling stations.

Editors who don’t deliver purple circulation numbers, and managers who don’t bring in bumper harvests of advertising in electioneering years, can expect their careers to screech to a halt.

Elections spread more joy than all the people who go around sneering at wicked politicians are ever willing to admit because of one other reason – it is also the biggest hypocrisy season.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

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