Credible, peaceful polls critical for Africa’s progress – Annan

Credible and peaceful elections are a prerequisite for Africa’s progress, former United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan has said.

Speaking at the Centre for Democratic Development’s (CDD) Kronti ne Akwamu lecture on Thursday June 23, Mr Annan noted that elections are a mechanism for the arbitration of political rivalries and peaceful and democratic rotation of leadership, but if political rivals and their supporters did not believe the electoral process to be free and fair, then they would ultimately resort to less peaceful methods to change political direction.

He said Ghana had been a success under democratic rule and advised that no matter the challenges, criticisms should rather lead to reforms than dictatorship.

“Ghana has thrived under democracy since it was reintroduced, and our society as well as our economy has thrived as a result. We must never stop reminding ourselves of that fact. Yes, our country has its problems, but all countries have problems. But democracies always tend to look worse than they are because media and civil society magnify their problems, whereas dictatorships suppress information about their problems. In the long run, however, criticism and public debate should lead to reform, which makes democracies resilient, while dictatorships are fundamentally brittle,” Mr Kofi Annan said.

He bemoaned the practice where some African leaders rigged elections to hold onto power. In Mr Annan’s opinion, therefore, democracies without credible elections were no democracies at all.

“Today, almost every leader claims to govern by democratic principles and organises periodic elections, most of which are open and fair. But there are many leaders who manipulate the system to make sure they win. In other words, rather than impose their rule through brute force, these leaders are tempted to subvert the legal and democratic framework. It is rule by law, rather than rule of law. Regimes have developed a multitude of methods, some more subtle than others, to ensure that level playing fields are limited to sports competitions only. This may work in the short run, but it is a dangerous strategy in the long run, for democracies without credible elections are no democracies at all. As such, they cannot provide societies with the feedback loops and resilience that characterise genuine democracy.”

In the opinion of the former UN boss, to ensure credible elections, there was the need to strengthen the rule of law so that elections and the rights of voters and candidates can be protected.

He also said professional and independent national bodies, which can manage elections so that they are credible and the results legitimate, should be encouraged.

Mr Annan further suggested that, greater efforts were needed to build the institutions, processes, and behaviours that are vital for genuine multi-party competition and the attribution of political power. Such elections, according to him, bestow legitimacy on the winner, provide security for the losers, and end the winner-takes-all politics that discourages democratic practice.

“The integrity of elections requires political equality. The barriers that prevent voting and wider participation in political life must be removed. Too often, women, young people, minorities and other marginalised groups are not given a full opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. Finally, unregulated money in politics undermines voters’ faith in elections and confidence in democracy. Vote buying and bribery of candidates, including by organised crime, have to be prevented,” he added.

Mr Annan reiterated that deepening democracy was a crucial struggle, not just for the country’s future prosperity and peace, but also “for our fundamental human aspiration to live as free men and women”

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