AS POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS BEGIN
This is the season of campaigns, parties' primaries, congresses and conventions. They signal a significant increase in the tempo of political activities, which in turn could lead to intense rivalries among politicians and groups within the parties. What this means is that political campaigns are as critical as the general elections.
Both are integral parts of the pursuit of political power. Therefore, because of the importance attached to political campaigns, many politicians approach it with a 'do or die' mentality which sometimes causes violence. In extreme cases, assassinations are involved.
That is why the onset of political campaigns often elicits genuine concerns and outright fear about the future stability of the country. Such concerns run deep in a fledging democracy such as ours. The suspicion that our political elites are the worst enemies of our democratic process and, perhaps, the worst transgressors of the laid down rules, raises the tension even notches higher.
Ideally, campaigns provide pristine opportunities for the electorate to assess the manifestoes of the different political parties and aspirants jostling for political positions. Also, campaigns provide veritable platforms to hear where the parties and individual aspirants stand on each of the myriad issues confronting the country and their solutions to such challenges. In this way, political campaigns have become so vital to the democratic process because they serve to either emphasize the negative parts of our diversity, or to highlight the ties that bind us indissolubly. Whichever way, it is a test of leadership, of character and maturity to issues in the polity.
Undoubtedly, this is the time that politics should take the centre-stage. As crucial as the 2011 polls are for citizens at home and in the Diaspora, political campaigns are litmus test for the election proper. What should take centre-stage must, therefore, be politics of ideas. These campaigns must involve well-conceived manifestoes and properly packaged programmes of action that stand good chances of succeeding. The campaigns must be a departure from the past characterized by name-calling, grandstanding and brinkmanship that did not address the real problems facing the country.
We advise every political party and aspirant to clearly spell out proposed solutions to the different problems facing the country. It is our view that once the political parties and the aspirants get serious on the campaign trail with clear-cut programme of action, there will be little time for bickering and thuggery that characterized our past elections. What is needed now is good political behaviour, and decent attitude from politicians and their supporters. Sloganeering and incendiary comments should not be given a place.
There is no doubt that campaigns involve money. But what is repugnant is the obscene deployment of cash to buy the voters, thereby corrupting the system and unduly influencing the outcome of the election. If all votes must count in the forthcoming polls, this is the time to put the necessary mechanisms into action. It is our environment that sows the seed of electoral violence and rigging.
As the campaigns begin, there is need to regulate the format and rules for the game. Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has repeatedly bemoaned its helplessness to limit the use of money or legislate on the behaviour of politicians during campaigns or elections, it must ensure compliance with the relevant laws which prohibit certain actions.
Parties or individuals found to have breached the laws must be swiftly punished. It is incumbent on the political parties to enlighten their members and supporters on the need to have rancor-free campaigns. The process must be devoid of poster wars and declarations that say little about the central issues the electorate want to hear. Only germane matters should be addressed. That is the way to a decent and progressive politicking.