The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not hidden its consternation over the number of political parties jostling for power in the country. As a body, it considers them to be too many. The Chief Technical Adviser to the INEC chairman, Professor Bolade Eyinla, recently admitted that this reality posed challenges for the commission ahead of the 2019 general election. Delivering the keynote address at a retreat recently organised in Abuja by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Professor Eyinla revealed that INEC had already registered 68 political parties and that, with the over 100 political associations still seeking registration, the number might increase before the general election, which could cause logistic problems, particularly with regard to the production of ballot papers.
Obviously, the 68 registered political parties must have fulfilled the conditions specified by the extant laws, while the over 100 political associations waiting for INEC’s approval have legitimate ambitions to participate in the impending general election. As if to complicate matters, even the National Assembly has also made a proposal for independent candidates, the consideration and approval of which will without doubt further pose challenges to INEC in its bid to deliver a credible and transparent election in 2019. There can be little doubt that the challenges cited by INEC are valid. As things stand, it looks like the elections might become unwieldy.
But then, it is impossible to restrict the registration of political parties just so that the task set before INEC can be easily accomplished without running afoul of the constitutional provisions. And as Professor Eyinla himself was minded to observe, there are democracies in the world with ballot papers that are as large as a mat! The issue of numerous party agents making the elections rowdy, which he also identified, is equally valid. The political associations waiting for INEC’s nod will definitely have agents to represent them in the elections, thus increasing the threat to the logistics put in place by the commission to achieve a credible and transparent election.
Besides, the level of voters’ literacy is still an issue of great concern, as the commission attempts to make a comprehensive inclusion of all voters, irrespective of their literacy level. And making ballot papers with the logos of all the parties understood to the voters is certainly a tall order against this background. In the face of these daunting tasks, recourse to technology might just be the way to go. The electronic voting might just be the option for INEC to consider. It is cheaper, more effective and efficient and it will ultimately enhance the credibility of the polls as the possibility of rigging and other forms of human manipulations will be eliminated.
What INEC calls challenges are actually opportunities to advance the cause of democracy. It should work harder towards actualising transparency and credibility. We are persuaded that the time is right for technology to solve the perceived daunting problems. Not only will INEC be able to have a new assured grasp of the control and processes of election, it will also inspire more confidence and boost transparency in the procedure of electing political office-holders.
Again, as we have said in previous editorials, INEC should work towards amending the Electoral Act in such a way that party participation in elections would depend on meeting very stringent criteria. That way, it would require more than registration as a political party to participate in a general election.