Political Parties, Elections and Governance in Nigeria: The Fourth Republic in Perspective

By Abutudu, Musa | Journal of Political Studies, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Political Parties, Elections and Governance in Nigeria: The Fourth Republic in Perspective


Abutudu, Musa, Journal of Political Studies


Introduction

In broad terms, an election is a means of choosing people to occupy positions of authority in organizations, institutions or government. In a democracy, the personnel selected through the electoral process are expected to embody specific norms and policy platforms which command the support of the electorate. Elections in this sense are "an expression of the peoples' sovereign will" (Agbaje & Adejumobi, 2006: 26). If elections express the sovereign will, political parties provide the platform for articulating that will and selecting the personnel who must embody it in government. A critical core of liberal democracy is predicated on competition for political power with the governed, as free agents, exercising their free and unfettered choice among competing platforms which are provided under different political parties. Political parties seek to capture political power but they do this by seeking popular support through elections. By contesting and winning elections, political parties become the effective agents for choosing those who exercise governmental power. In effect, political parties act as channel of expression between government and the governed, set and implement agenda for the society while acting as agents of socialization and elite recruitment (Hague & Harrop, 1987: 139-141).

The claim to govern by a political party is anchored on its ability to get the support of a majority of voters in free and fair elections. However, there are differing perspectives as to how political parties align themselves with the voters. While some assume that this process is largely driven by the voters themselves, with the 'rational' political party simply aligning itself with the preferences of majority of the voters (Downs, 1957), others see the political party as the creator of the vision behind which it mobilizes the voters. The first perspective suggests that political parties are pragmatic entities whose overriding need for power compels them to adopt electoral platforms that reflect the positions of most voters. In this the populist conception of democracy, elections express a relationship between the voter and the elected official with the former controlling the latter (Ware, 1979: 6). On the other hand, the conception of parties as essentially instruments through which like-minded people organize to enthrone their interests as the basis of government action (Duverger, 1959), see the party as the creator of the platform, the vision, behind which it then mobilizes the voters. Political parties under this liberal variant of democracy influence voters' choice "through the alternative views of political reality they present to the electorate. In effect, they interpret the political universe for the electorate and invite them to chose among such competing interpretations" (Ware, 1979: 32-33). In this case, it is the party or the political leader that actually creates the agenda. The sovereign will of the people is manifested in the act of choosing among the alternatives available.

In general, the difference between the two perspectives lies in one seeing political parties as buying into the vision of the electorate, while the other sees the parties as the creator of that vision. These contrasting views on the mediating role of parties in advancing the popular will are not unproblematic. For example, it is quite difficult to see how a particular political party can align itself to the preferences of most voters on every issue area. On the other hand, where parties are held to be the creators of alternative platforms out of which the electorate manifests its will in the choice of one or the other, Ware suggests that the competition between the parties can degenerate to one "mainly in the provision of ... 'disinformation'" (Ware, 1979: 32). In addition, no matter which perspective holds sway, there is the problem whether elections (even when adjudged free and fair) can correctly bring out the people's will "with dwindling participation, limits to real choice, and growing sense of powerlessness" (Agbaje & Adejumobi, 2006: 27). …

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