In this piece, KAUTHAR ANUMBA KHALEEL examines the prospects of Independent candidacy ahead of 2019 general elections.
Countries around the world over time have had to adopt, discard or, mix-up systems they saw as either inhibitor or facilitator of growth and development of structures. In some democratic settings, areas of elections have been modified to include the proportionate representation voting system, party list voting, political party system and independent candidate system among others to suit their political space. Of these systems, the independent candidate system which for most part, allows candidates to run for elective position without political party affiliations, has fared in some democracies and seen to the emergence of prominent political office holders in countries such as the United States where George Washington was elected president as an independent candidate. In Germany, Joachim Gauck was elected president of Germany in 2012 as a nonpartisan candidate just as President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson of Iceland is an independent candidate.
Also, Italian Prime Ministers, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Lamberto Dini, Giuliano Amato and Mario Monti were all independent candidates while in office. In Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga was elected the first female and independent President not just for Kosovo but the entire Balkans; Bernie Sanders won a senatorial seat as an independent candidate since 2007 as did John Madigan, Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie. Other countries that have produced independent candidates for various positions include Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Philippines, Ireland, Hong Kong, Mexico to mention a few.
Against this backdrop, some Nigerians in their quest for change, have clamored for the inclusion of independent candidacy in the country’s electoral system which before now, practiced only the political party system (two-party, three- party and multi-party) positing that it will best advance its democratic and political needs culminating in the much needed development.
It would be recalled that attempts were made in the past by the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo government, the draft bill on electoral reform by late President Umaru Yar’Adua as well as President Goodluck Jonathan administration’s National Conference of 2014 to include independent candidacy but all failed.
However, a new lease of life was given to it when the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to harmonize recommendations on constitution and electoral reforms in its report, endorsed the inclusion of independent candidacy amongst other things, to provide for an improved election standard in the country through the liberalization of the Electoral Act in areas that seem to limit the democratic space.
More so, with its recent approval by the National Assembly and the 2019 general elections nearing, Nigeria looks to join the league of nations that broadens their political space to accommodate candidates with no party platform. Although still under legislative works, Nigerians remain divided on the need and feasibility of such based the merits and demerits of such reform to the country’s electoral system.
Proponents continue to express optimism at the change it will eventually bring to the nation’s electoral practice noting that it will be a panacea to the bureaucratic processes within political parties.
A canvasser, Senator Stella Oduah, who posited that independent candidacy remains the best option for representation in the 2019 elections, insisted that it would bring to an end, the impunity associated with imposition of candidates by political parties thereby ensuring that the right candidates get elected without party influence.
“It is indeed a global best practice which has worked in the US and other climes. If we bring it home, it will give the electorate the opportunity to choose who they want. So, people will have direct access to choose their leaders. It will also remove the issue of imposition. It will not be a free-for-all. The best will emerge”.
Similarly, the Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre PLAC, and a member of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee, Clem Nwankwo, justified the committee’s recommendation in a chat with newsmen shortly after the report was presented to the presidency saying it would “deal with the issues of political parties who do not respect their laws as regards nomination of candidates for electoral offices.
Also, political analyst, David Nwachukwu said “It benefits anyone who wants to run for a position without a party and people can vote candidates they know have their best interest at heart. Aspirants should be supported not just on the basis of party affiliations but based on credibility. It would eliminate undemocratic practices at the intra party level and there will be a balance in the political system”.
Critics however, kicked against it arguing that the country is ill prepared for it adding that it has the tendency to breed recklessness in persons occupying offices who are without the guidance of any political party even as it will cost the country money.
Former Minister of Information and Culture, Tony Momoh, in an interview with Sunday sun, contends that the introduction of independent candidacy into the country’s electoral system is a misplaced priority and waste of resources that should be channeled to development which ought to be the focus of the country. He noted that it was unnecessary given the number of registered political parties on which aspirants could run.
“Independent candidacy will increase the cost of our democracy and then show how ready we are to put democracy in the front burner of governance to the detriment of development. Nigeria is the only country in the world that puts democracy before development, looking for where to spend money. We have more than 45 registered political parties and we want to add other opportunities where people can spend the little resources they have trying to access power. So, the mode of accessing power, which are the peripheral areas we are looking at today, is a mode and no more; it will not add value to governance. When you decongest the political space, economic deregulation becomes automatic”.
Also the Democratic People’s Congress (DPC) in a statement signed by its national chairman, Olusegun Peters, objected to the inclusion of independent candidates in the Electoral Act noting that the country’s democracy is not yet ripe for it.
Regardless, pundits say the inclusion of independent candidate would eliminate undemocratic practices at the intra party level and bring a balance in the political system. They also contend that given the current realities and the fact that major parties in the country only defer in personalities and not ideologies, a multiplicity of options will engender healthy competition which in turn, will compel parties to compete on the level of ideology instead of personality.
Should the State Assemblies muster the two-third required to make Independent candidacy a part of the electoral system, it will inevitably, check practices that have corrupted democratic values and stunted the growth of electoral system.
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