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Friday, June 21, 2024

Local government elections aftermath:- What’s on the menu for 2026?

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By Lamino Lang Comma

Statistics are a good tool to predict trends. Equally, events can also lay the foundation for the future. Thus, post-election analysis is always rife with statistics on voter turnout, percentages and so forth. There is a different perspective to this norm by viewing elections from the point of view of some outstanding events and activities leading to polling day.

The perspectives on events of the local government elections relate to issues concerning the ruling NPP, the opposition UDP, IEC, the voters, miscellaneous political groups and some interesting specific events.

The NPP camp put up a vigorous and a high profile campaign. The party leader and head of state was actively and directly involved and was supported by an entourage of party executives and government officials. It was an intensive effort to mobilise support and regain lost ground from the preceding elections.

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The strategy of using the captain to the last sailor, with all hands on deck, may have raked in votes but not as much as was hoped for. Instead, the heavy executive presence seemed to have had its negative aspects too. It turned the grassroots elections into a national agenda and thus brought to the forefront national level issues that have little or no bearing on local government management.

The campaign became a referendum on the ability of government to address the persistent complaints of voters – corruption, the economy, the cost of living and the rising prices of food, fuel, electricity and so forth. Unfortunately, there weren’t many answers proffered for this list of concerns. The responses were more of disparaging the other parties, their leaders and candidates. The campaign was somewhat boisterous and personalised with banal activities of laying foundation stones of new projects. There was comparatively a lesser attention given to burning issues. There were a few allegations, in the social media, of voter buying here and there. These perspectives should indeed be an inspiration for better plans for the future.

Generally, the elections could be seen to have boiled down to a reaction of voters to the apathy of a government that has in the past found it more appropriate to find excuses for every concern raised by the citizens than alleviating their conditions. Although there is no panacea to economic problems and other challenges of governance, policies can be formulated to ameliorate difficulties.

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For the NPP and its leadership, any adviser within the circles of the party who, from now on, tries to brush aside the criticisms and complaints of the citizens should be considered a sycophant and not an able adviser – such as one that explains away the state of the economy as a global problem and specifically a result of the Ukraine conflict, that corruption should be proven first before action is taken, an audit report to being seen as a mere opinion, even that a brief shortage of fuel is because a fuel tanker was caught up in bad weather and so forth.

Furthermore, the politics of tribe and personality has become too banal. The problem of the country is not its ethnic diversity or the opposition parties and their leaderships. It is about the concerns and complaints of the citizens that are mostly expressed as criticisms.

Criticism in politics is sometimes mistakenly equated to a lack of loyalty. Paradoxically, critics are sometimes the best advisers to a government, pro bono. Criticism and loyalty are not merely a question of “being with us or not”. Some critics express a much better and useful opinion than what comes from the most loyal adviser.

On the other hand, the UDP had a comparatively low key leadership presence in the campaign and it seemed to have focused more on issues. It was able to have successfully turned the heavy presence of the NPP leadership participation in the campaign into a strategy of a referendum on the government. It highlighted all the burning issues of the day as outlined above being the unresolved challenges.

A party that seemingly lost heavily from a presidential election and now recovering so much ground in voter support can only be seen as a party with enough reserve tank of resilience. After a continuous and much-lamented dissatisfaction with the presidential elections, UDP seems to have focused on what they perceived as the root cause of their loss – a possible fraud by rigging, participation of non-citizen voters and the inducement of voters.

With this disposition, there was a keen pursuit by the party in the development of an elections monitoring software that captured results directly from the polling stations instead of relying on the IEC collated results at the regional level. Even where there had not been any rigging, at least this attitude and invention provided them the motivation and satisfaction of ensuring a robust campaign platform, a deterrent effect on a possible or perceived rigging and the assurances of a fair and undisputable outcome. There was also much eventful and enthusiastic night patrols of the streets for possible voter buying which was an accusation from the party.

It may be argued that these events may have had little or no bearing on the outcome of the election result. Nonetheless, these were tangible events in the activities of UDP. They are pointers to mistrust that have unleashed the potential of the party to develop strategies of abatement in what it considers as a threat to winning an election.

The propensity to be ingeniously responsive to a situation seems to be the might of UDP as a party and a formidable survivor. In politics, strategies matter, especially creative ones.

However, the UDP menu must be one of improving upon an internal monitoring of results, in addition to ensuring IEC cooperation in getting results from where they are counted (polling stations) and not from collation centers and to develop an effective tool of monitoring the registration of citizens-only voters.

Elections are not without complaints about peculiar events. The institution that deals with them must be seen to be impartial and should be actively responsive. For most of the bunch of complaints, the response from IEC is all but satisfactory – maybe, for lack of resources, inefficiency or mere complacency. It must improve upon whatever shortcomings it may have in order to cultivate a higher degree of confidence in and currency for their existence.

If the trend of the loss of voter support of the ruling party is to go by, it must be noted that the voice of voters is not an empty barrel. Its fury can be vehemently expressed in the ballot box. Whether considered as a form of protest or otherwise, giving a good ear to the voice of the voters matters in winning their hearts and minds.

It seems most political parties are in slumber with not even a snore to generate a public awareness that they are still around. That may require volumes of explanations to voters for 2026. Politics is about values which must and should be upheld at all times. It is more than getting a job in the political arena. The trend of governance, economic development and living conditions of the people should be foremost on the agenda of political parties at all times. The various silent and passive political groups had an uneventful participation or perhaps lack of it. Their silence could equate to a lack of an interest in the issues of the day and the concern of voters. In politics, there is always something to put forward by an opposing party as an alternative program of development and an opinion on burning issues of the day – unless of course when such a silence means consent.

Two events may highlight the conclusion of the observations. There was an incident of a poster being pulled down by soldiers. The swift response from the army headquarters was indeed impressive. The institution quickly dissociated itself from that activity and promised an enquiry. Perhaps other security outfits should emulate this level of impartiality and professionalism.

The other event was more of a post-election event emanating from the elections. The results of North Bank Region were controversial. The UDP was initially claiming victory. However, it appears that after a rigorous evaluation, presumably with the use of their monitoring software, they magnanimously came out to accept the results with a sterling honesty. That should be seen as a golden badge of honesty, truthfulness, and trustworthiness.

The events cannot be concluded without a little sense of humour or perhaps dismay. Traditionally, a griot, jali or praise-singer is known to be a specialist and a professional in narrating family history. One such griot in the scheme of things seemed to have dropped the ball, in a nasty way too, by ignorantly labeling one of the candidates as a Lebanese and a foreigner. The amazing side of the incident was the confidence he exuded in his public deliberation and the heavy silence of his party leaders, as if consenting to the comical misinformation. Hopefully, he is not one of the key advisers.

There is a good list of dishes on the political menu for 2026, some of which will emanate from lessons of this last cycle of election activities. With the lessons learnt from the past, 2026 should be devoid of personal and ethnic rhetoric with less focus on parties and their leaders. Its campaign activities should be based on issues in order to address voter concerns. It should be supported by a more robust oversight IEC institution that will diligently deliver the results with the optimum accuracy while disaggregating the results and administering a more citizen-based voter list and participation.

Einstein says that politics is more difficult than physics. Thus, if one sails in the high seas of politics, it is important that the captain has a compass (vision), good sailors (advisers) to man the sails (policies) in order to catch up with the wind of change and progress and a strong rudder (focus) to keep the ship steady. That way he can weather the storm of voter concerns.

Just thinking aloud.

Lamino Lang Comma was a senior civil servant in both the first and second republics. He writes on politics and society.

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