Purposes of Elections | Electoral Systems and Processes
What is an Election?
Election is the act of electing candidates to represent the people of a given country in the Parliament, the Executive and possibly into the other arms of government as stipulated in the Constitution of that particular country. For example, in United States, judges of the lower courts are elected.
Purposes of Elections
The functions of elections in the political systems include the following;
Clarification of Issues
Elections help to clarify or simplifying issues for the electorate. During the period of electioneering, political parties make a number of promises and explain the issues to the electorate in their campaigns. As a result, the voters are able to make informed judgement in the choice of parties or candidates. The fact, however, is that issues play only a minor role in the final decision by the electorate.
Moreover, elections are rarely fought over issue or even a precise group of issues. Personality tends to be more important than manifesto in African elections, for example, in the April 2011 presidential election in Nigeria, a large proportion of the voters “especially in ANC – controlled States” claimed that they voted for President Jonathan.
Selection of Candidates for Public Office
Perhaps, the most important function of elections is the selection of candidates for Political offices. Elections are the major instrument through which the electorate choose their representatives.
In reality, the electorate only have a little say in the actual choice of candidates because it is the political party that actually controls the selection of candidates through their party primaries. In some cases, the party leaders simply decide on their own candidates to be presented for elections.
Furthermore, the people’s choice may be further distorted by corruption. It is claimed, for instance, that the narrow victory of President Kennedy over Richard Nixon in the 1960 USA Presidential elections was largely a result of the manipulation of vital votes in the Democratic stronghold of Cook County, Chicago. In this situation of rigging, election becomes a mere instrument for the subversion of the will of the people.
Peaceful Transfer of Power
Elections provide an opportunity for a peaceful transfer of power. In liberal democratic states, elections are, at least in theory, the only established and acceptable method of rotating and transferring offices.
Power may, however, be transferred in other ways, for example, through direct appointment such as the appointment of Chief Ernest Shonekan has head of the Interim National Government by the Babangida regime in August 1993. It may also be by heredity such as in the Gulf Arab State like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
Elections enhance the participation of the people in political activities. Through elections, a vast majority of the people are brought into the political process and were made to have a say in the running of their own affairs.
Moreover, everybody is equal before the ballot boxes even if they are not equal in other respects, and this equality is symbolised by the secrecy of voting. Elections therefore create a sense of belonging and a degree of responsibility for government decisions.
Elections serve as a channel of communication between the government and the governed. The government can use elections to assess the acceptability of its policies and educate the people on important government policies. On the other hand, the electorate can dismiss an unpopular government at the next general elections. Thus, elections help to close the gap between the government and the people.
Political Legitimacy and Integration
An election is a means by which a government is legitimized. A government that is popularly elected is conferred with the right to rule. Elections in this sense, provide a justification for the government. Elections can also be used to mobilize the people so that they become a receptive to government policies and programmes.
Elections may however serve to undermine the political system, especially in developing countries, where elections are frequently fourth along ethnic or religious lines and where political leaders seldom accept the results of elections and congratulate their opponents.
The widespread riots and disturbances that followed the April 16, 2011 Presidential elections in Nigeria which President Jonathan was poised to win resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives in core Northern state, the stronghold of General M. Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who was major contender for power.
Instrument for Influencing Government
Elections may be used as an instrument to influence the government and its policies. This can take many forms. First, the people who dislike certain government policies can prevent candidates of their own for future elections.
Second, elections provide an opportunity for aggrieved people to bring their grievances to those seeking political office and who are likely to be favourably disposed to their demands. Thus, through elections, political leaders may be compelled to change their policies to suit their constituencies. So elections are important means by which the rulers are controlled
Vehicle for Resolution of Class Conflict
Class conflicts in society may be resolved through elections. Class conflicts are inevitable especially since every society is an assemblage of rich and poor people. Socialists or Leftist parties usually represent the Economic and Social interest of the poem which include a greater economic equality, better working conditions, higher status and access to social and welfare facilities.
On the other hand, right-wing parties generally start for the maintenance of the status quo. That is, they represent the desire of the rich to be richer.
These two ideological positions are contradictory. The desire of the rich to be richer and the desire of the poor for a better living condition. This is a possible source of conflict, and this has indeed historically been a very major cause of civil strife. By bringing these conflicts into the open and contesting elections on the basis of this division, the possibility of open conflict is minimised.
Elections are usually contested along ideological lines in Western European countries like Germany Italy and France. In most African states, left-wing parties are either extinct or poorly organised and cannot therefore pose any serious threat to the dominant conservative. In many cases, those who claim to be socialist have abandoned class struggle and have been sucked into the unjust system of exploitation.