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The illusion of smooth elections

24 Aug 2023 at 06:40hrs | Views
THE cornerstone of democratic governance, elections, often conjure images of civic participation and the people's voice resonating through the ballot box. Yet, reality paints a more complex picture as events in various parts of the world demonstrate.

Contrary to the idealised notion of seamlessly executed elections, instances of disruptions, delays and controversies underscore the inherent challenges in conducting flawless electoral processes. There are no elections that run smoothly worldwide.

The case of our beloved Zimbabwe serves as a striking fresh illustration of the hurdles that elections often face.
In urban centres like Bulawayo and Harare, reports of delayed voting start times yesterday highlight the logistical obstacles that election commissions encounter. The delay in polling, attributed to lawsuits impeding the timely printing of ballots, underscores how legal complications can impact the smooth execution of an election.

The situation reveals that even with meticulous planning, unforeseen legal battles can lead to disruptions and erode public trust in the electoral process.

Moving westward to the United States, a country often touted as a beacon of democracy, we find no exception to the challenges of conducting seamless elections. If it can't hold flawless elections, then why do people expect Zimbabwe not to face challenges?

The 2000 presidential election stands as an indelible mark on America's history, with the controversial outcome in Florida and the protracted legal battles that followed.

The use of outdated voting technology, inadequate ballot designs and confusing voting instructions demonstrated that even advanced democracies are not immune to administrative hiccups that can compromise the integrity of elections.

Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom's Brexit referendum brought its own set of complications to light. The outcome of the referendum, which saw the majority vote in favour of leaving the European Union, triggered political turmoil and administrative challenges.

The intricate process of disentangling from decades-long economic and political alliances showcased the complexities of executing a major decision arrived at through popular vote.

The ensuing debates, negotiations, and shifts in public sentiment demonstrated that the aftermath of an election can be just as tumultuous as the election itself.

Travelling back to the African continent, Kenya's history of election turmoil serves as a sobering reminder of the challenges associated with conducting smooth elections. The 2007 presidential election, in particular, resulted in widespread violence and disputes over the results.

The ensuing political crisis led to a power-sharing agreement and a re-run of the election in 2013. The complex interplay of ethnic tensions, allegations of voter manipulation, and disputes over results underscores the intricate web of factors that can disrupt the electoral process.

Kenya's experience highlights that elections are not merely technical exercises but are deeply intertwined with societal dynamics.

In Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, the challenges of conducting smooth elections are also evident.
The country's history of electoral violence, voter suppression and irregularities has cast a shadow over the credibility of its democratic processes.

The 2007 presidential election, marred by allegations of vote rigging and ballot box stuffing, exemplified the difficulties in establishing transparent and trustworthy electoral systems.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, Egypt embarked on a tumultuous journey towards democratic governance. The country's presidential elections in 2012 marked a significant milestone, but they were far from smooth. The election process faced criticism for a lack of competition and transparency, leading to widespread protests.

The subsequent military coup and the removal of the elected president further complicated Egypt's path to democracy.
Venturing to Latin America, Mexico's electoral history offers further evidence that smooth elections are a rare occurrence.

The 1988 presidential election in Mexico saw allegations of fraud and manipulation, leading to protests and calls for transparency. While subsequent elections have shown improvements, issues of voter intimidation, corruption, and violence have continued to plague the process. The complexities of maintaining security and transparency in the face of entrenched political interests highlight the uphill battle to achieve seamless elections.

Venezuela's elections offer another lens through which to view the lack of smooth electoral processes. The 2018 presidential election, which resulted in the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro, was widely criticised for irregularities and alleged fraud. International observers questioned the fairness of the process, while internal dissent escalated into political and economic crises.

Turning to Eastern Europe, Ukraine's recent history reflects the fragility of electoral systems in the face of political instability.

The 2004 presidential election, known as the Orange Revolution, witnessed allegations of voter fraud and manipulation, leading to mass protests and a re-run of the election.

This event marked a significant turning point in Ukraine's democratic trajectory and underlined the need for transparent electoral processes to maintain public confidence.

Rotating our attention to the world's largest democracy, India, we encounter a nation that grapples with its own set of electoral challenges. The sheer scale of conducting elections in a country with over a billion people is a monumental task.

Despite the Election Commission's efforts to ensure a smooth process, instances of voter manipulation, allegations of bribery, and the use of identity politics to sway public opinion have all cast a shadow over the fairness and integrity of elections.

The complexities of catering to diverse linguistic, cultural, and geographical regions highlight the need for robust mechanisms to ensure transparency and inclusivity.

Even in countries known for political stability, challenges persist in achieving perfectly smooth elections. Australia, often hailed for its compulsory voting and robust democratic traditions, has faced criticism for its complex ballot design.

The intricacies of the voting system, where preferences play a pivotal role, have led to instances of "informal voting" due to voter confusion. While the issues in Australia might appear less dramatic compared to cases of fraud or violence, they demonstrate that even in well-established democracies, technical aspects of the electoral process can lead to unexpected disruptions.

In dissecting these examples, it becomes evident that the concept of smoothly conducted elections is an illusion. From Zimbabwe's logistical hurdles to the United States' technological shortcomings and the UK's post-referendum chaos, each instance underscores that even the most established democracies grapple with imperfections.

The examples of India, Egypt, and Australia add depth to the understanding that elections universally face complexities and challenges.

The diversity of these challenges across different political, social and cultural contexts further solidifies the notion that no election is immune to imperfections. Instead of seeking an unattainable ideal of perfectly smooth elections, the focus should be on continuous improvement, transparency and adaptability.

The process of conducting elections is inherently human and subject to the dynamics of society, making it essential to constantly reevaluate and evolve electoral systems.

By embracing the lessons learned from a wide range of examples, nations can move towards more resilient, inclusive and trustworthy democratic processes.

Source - The Chronicle
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