Recently,the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officially released the timetable for the 2019 general election. The timetable reveals that presidential and National Assembly elections would hold on February 16, 2019, while the governorship and State Assembly polls would be conducted on March 2, 2019.
According to the timetable, political parties must conduct and conclude their primaries, including resolution of disputes thereof, between August 18 and October 7, 2018.
Presidential and federal legislative campaigns, it states, would begin on November 18, 2018 and close on February 14, 2019, two days before the slated election. On the other hand, state election campaigns would commence on December 1, 2018 and end on February 28, 2019.
Before these details were released recently, INEC had fixed permanent election dates for general elections in March 2017, indicating that presidential polls would hold third Saturday of February in every election season. Thus, it is possible to predict election dates for the next 100 years and beyond: 2019, February 16; 2023, February, 18; 2027, February 20; 2031, February 15, etc. We commend the electoral umpire for this innovative template in our democratic experience, as we do the early release of recent timetable.
This innovation, in addition to the ongoing continuous voters’ registration, is a clear demonstration that the agency is forward-looking.
The announcement of the schedule of election events ordinarily marks the beginning of a political season. Some individuals and groups have complained about the ordering of the polls, arguing that the presidential election should not come first.
The argument is that the outcome of the presidential poll does impact on the outcome of other elections which come later. From past experience, this argument can be said to be tenable but, in our view, nothing to do with the integrity of the outcome of the election or for that matter, that of the process that produced it.
The point is, there is no particular election order that will not draw criticism from any group. Our position is that the electoral body should be allowed to order the polls the way it deems fit, so long as there is no legal infringement. In that way, it will be, within reasonable limits, insulated from all partisan entanglements. From that perspective, we are persuaded to argue that INEC has earned its reputation and integrity and deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.
We consider it pertinent to emphasize the point that INEC is just the umpire in the entire electoral process. For the election to succeed and gain everyone’s acceptance, all stakeholders, politicians especially, must necessarily play by the rules. It is unfair to blame the electoral body whenever the expectations of certain elements in electoral chain are not met. We see nothing inherently wrong with the order of the elections to justify the perceived apprehension.
In our opinion, all that is required for the election to come out as it should is for all who are involved to consider the interest of the nation and do their best to ensure that the democratic system matures on a sustainable basis
However, we call on INEC to take advantage of its own early notice to strengthen any weakness observed during off-season elections, although observers have described them as largely credible. Even so, general elections require far more complicated logistics.
All electronic devices meant for the polls should be tested well ahead of time and be found to be in good condition. There should be adequate and early training for election officials. Above all, INEC should ensure it secures funding for the exercise early, so as avoid a repeat of observable lapses in last general election.
We urge the electorate to take advantage of the current continuous voters’ registration so as to be empowered for the exercise. We should avoid the ‘late hour rush’ syndrome to prevent needless self-disentrancement. It would be recalled that INEC once raised the alarm that about 7 million voters’ cards were abandoned in its office. If this is still so, we encourage the concerned individuals to approach the election body and collect them.
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