It is now a universally accepted norm and preference that all countries hold regular elections as legitimating mechanisms for the acquisition or transfer of political power. Even in countries that are generally not considered democratic.
At their onset and as motivated by the United Nations, elections and electoral processes have been considered democratically meaningful. But not necessarily revolutionary. Though in some cases, such as those when African liberation movements won inaugural pre-independence elections, they may have been considered so. Or if we go to the global north and recall the election of the United States of America’s (USA) first black president in 2008.
But we also know that apartheid South Africa and closer to home, Southern Rhodesia also held elections. On the latter Masipula Sithole wrote a very interesting analysis on what he referred to as ‘intra-white settler democracy’ wherein in the settler state there was the regularity of elections for the white minority. And how these were also regularly recognized by the ‘global international community’.
In our contemporary times however elections have begun to take on a new meaning. Mainly because there are now international standards expected of how they are conducted, including their regularity. But more significantly because of the fact that they are now viewed, in most cases, as representing a ‘winner takes all’ approach to political power. As well as to a direct control of state capital as it relates to a global neo-liberal economy.
Because of the latter point, which I am sure a number of academics are avidly working on expanding, elections and electoral processes while requiring minimal democratic standards are no longer as of traditional democratic old.
Their periodic occurrence, which remains an important and democratically good thing, has come to mean so much more than their mere occurrence. Vested interests on either side of the global capital divide are avidly competing for what they would consider to be the ‘peoples’ will’ and the more significant attendant exploitation of national wealth that is perennially at stake.
All characterized by disputes over final electoral results. Wherein the majority of cases disputes on results are about who has won the post of the seeming ‘winner takes all’ executive presidency. As opposed to who has won anything else such as the legislative or local government vote counts. The key challenge and desire is attaining or retaining ultimate executive political power. And its all fair enough but we would have to look at a few recent examples to expand my argumentation further.
In the USA, the incumbent president, Donald Trump, went down to the wire in disputing the results of the November 2020 presidential plebiscite. Including being accused of being directly involved in a siege of that nations parliamentary buildings in Washington DC in early January 2021. A development that has led to unprecedented impeachment proceedings on a sitting USA president by the American Congress. Despite this, it is still reported that Trump intends to give the presidency another go in 2024.
The second example is that of the even more recent Ugandan elections in which long serving ruler Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner against a younger Bobi Wine. The latter is vehemently refuting the results and has been reported in the media as seeking to challenge the validity of the results in court.
The third and final example is that of the Tanzanian presidential elections where again the incumbent John Magufuli was declared an overwhelming victor over his strongest rival Tundu Lissu. The latter has since gone into exile.
In these examples cited above, there are certain common characteristics that come into vogue. The first being that there are arguments about urban versus rural votes. Or in the case of the USA, the conservative hinterland versus the liberal coast cities.
There is also the case of arguing about the youth vote and how again it relates largely to the rural/urban dichotomy. Including the same’s populist trends, intentions and ephemerality. Amid allegations fo rigging, the youth vote has become the holy grail of contemporary electoral politics. Based on population demographics and assumptions that images of relatively mature people running for office can never sit well with the same population demographic. A point that remains as arguable as it is based on the emotive but privately owned social media company platforms’ clicks, likes via their algorithms.
Thirdly, there is the argumentation around methodology and technicalities of voting. This is always a long running ‘reform’ argument that seeks to make more transparent how votes are counted, tallied and relayed to some electoral center or the other. From postal ballots induced by Covid19 in the USA or polling station tallies in remote areas of Uganda or Tanzania, the trend is clear about the technicalities as they eventually arrive to be argued at one electoral court or the other. And in most cases with the same courts deciding against the challenger.
But we still have to ask the question about what it is that is making elections, electoral processes and their results such highly contested occurrences in the now. At the risk of sounding over philosophical, I would argue that it is the retention of a consciousness that is pre-occupied by the reality and possibility of the passage of time. In order to live to fight another day and ensure that same struggle is retained in the consciousness of those that would be quasi-cultist supporters of an electoral candidate. Ones’ who remember more the past than they would envision a better future for all. On either side of existent political divides. A pre-disposition that I personally refer to as ‘main-actoring’.
We need to ask ourselves the key question of what we advise political leaders at the emotional heights of claiming electoral victories. Its not too complicated. They need to think beyond themselves and their egos. Both in victory or in contested defeat. But expanding on this is for another write up.