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Counting the cost of democracy

Had it been her choice, would she have chosen to hold a by-election or get running water and abundant food in her home? After all is said and done, do we really need this costly democratic process just because it seems to work for the mighty and rich? These are innocent questions I wish I could find answers to.

When it comes to priorities, to many, democracy is more of a luxury than a necessity. And in all fairness it has proven to be a very expensive luxury that not only leaves the poor poorer, it is also a waste of what would have otherwise been valuable time. Our kind of democracy has one notable feature, people have to get hurt.

And people really do  get hurt, and not just emotionally, but physically as well. More often than not election campaigns are marred by petty rhetoric which ends in disturbing exchanges and, in extremes, violence.I have always felt that our kind of democracy is really not the best for us.

For one, we can all agree that it has been a product of forces from without. If at all it were up to us, I strongly feel that our politicians would have opted for a system more accommodating to their needs. A system that would guarantee one perpetually
stays in office without having to go through the hassles of periodically seeking people’s endorsement.

Democratic elections demand that opposing candidates battle it out for the electorate’s votes and this process has proved to be strenuous and very demanding. The battle, in the form of campaigns, could at times be so gruelling that after the polls are over some candidates, mostly those who emerge losers, are taken ill and need to be hospitalized.

Some quietly, and sadly, relegate themselves into oblivion. I recall some years back when still a student, our good professor asked us to discuss how democracy and elections are a paradox. I also remember how we terribly failed at that, but I have come to understand now how the two are a paradox. Ideally, democracy ought to ensure that individual politicians do not impose themselves on people.

It also aims at ensuring that the people’s will determines who holds what public office. In turn, those holding public office serve the people and are answerable to the same. For that to happen it was devised that the electorate holds periodic elections to vote for people of their liking. Ideally, again, the public is supposed to make informed choices which are not influenced by some ulterior inducement.

Unfortunately for our lot, however, elections do not give meaning to democracy, far from it, it is an expensive exercise and how elections are conducted simply defeats the purpose. For starters, people rarely make informed choices. This should explain the increased low turnout during polls.

Then most elections are rigged and marred by a myriad of irregularities. The whole democratic process is never respected by many candidates, what matters is the outcome. This may also explain the disturbing rhetoric during campaigns. To make matters worse, massive irregularities lead to petitions challenging the victor’s results. Since irregularities are one too many and extremely obvious, courts do not find it hard to nullify election results. What ensues is an expensive process in the form of by-elections.

These by-elections cost the National Electorate Commission (NEC) a lot of money. It should be noted that NEC is not a business entity; it thrives on taxpayers’ money. For it to cough out billions of shillings to hold a by-election in one constituency seems rather unfair to the rest of us who have nothing to do with that constituency.

Since the 2010 general, there have been several by elections both on the mainland and in Zanzibar. Summing how much they cost taxpayers may be a tall order for now, but the figure will by all means be staggering. Early in the week, the High Court in Arusha nullified the results for Arusha Urban constituency; another by-election is on the horizon. More money will be spent for Arusha residents to get a representative in the august House and the rest of us will go to bed hungry.

Whoever said life would be fair? We all know that we are a poor lot. People that live on 1,000/- a day are literally a starving grouping. Starving people do not need lipstick to feel better, they need food. In our state of development and poverty, I doubt if we need expensive by-elections. After all, they never interpret into good governance.


LAST week, following the inauguration of the newlyelected ...


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