Polls fraud get­ting trick­ier: Ex­perts

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

DAKAR — As Gabon is rocked by vi­o­lence fol­low­ing the con­tested re-elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo, ex­perts say elec­toral fraud in Africa is be­com­ing harder, thanks to civil so­ci­ety vig­i­lance and spread of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy.

Op­po­si­tion leader Jean Ping on Fri­day de­clared him­self the right­ful pres­i­dent of Gabon and called for a re­count, fol­low­ing Bongo’s claim of vic­tory with a ra­zor-thin mar­gin of just un­der 6 000 votes in the Au­gust 27 elec­tion.

But re­cent elec­tions in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Benin and Burk­ina Faso have all been held largely with­out dis­pute, over­seen by en­gaged cit­i­zens who as­sured care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of the process, said Mathias Hounkpe, Po­lit­i­cal Gov­er­nance Pro­gramme Man­ager for the Open So­ci­ety Ini­tia­tive for West Africa (OSIWA), which pro­motes greater govern­ment trans­parency.

“It is more and more dif­fi­cult to com­mit fraud,” he said.

Pre­vent­ing fraud with bal­lot papers was down to a clear le­gal frame­work for or­ga­nis- ing elec­tions, elec­toral bod­ies “in a po­si­tion to re­spect the rules”, in­de­pen­dent fig­ures such as in­ter­na­tional elec­tion ob­servers and a free press and ac­tive so­cial media users who would guar­an­tee a fair vote, ac­cord­ing to Hounkpe.

For Aboubacry Mbodji, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the African rights group RADDHO, west and cen­tral African coun­tries such as Sene­gal, Ghana and the At­lantic is­land of Cape-verde have shown Africa how a suc­cess­ful democ­racy holds an elec­tion.

A strong civil so­ci­ety and the com­bi­na­tion of free media and cit­i­zens with ac­cess to new tech­nol­ogy to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion was “ex­tremely im­por­tant”, he told AFP.

Sene­gal, where RADDHO is based, saw “a change at the top” in 2000 when lib­eral can­di­date Ab­doulaye Wade chal­lenged the so­cial­ist regime that had held power for 40 years, and was elected pres­i­dent for two terms.

Govern­ment fight­back But Wade him­self was booted out in 2012 af­ter an­ger­ing vot­ers with at­tempts to stay on for a third stint in power, show­ing the ma­tu­rity of the elec­torate, Mbodji said.

“(The 2000 elec­tion) was in large part thanks to the use of mo­bile phones, but also the in­ter­net,” he added.

Any party mem­bers tempted to tam­per with bal­lots had to face the large num­bers of Sene­galese who re­mained in place at vot­ing sta­tions to en­sure it passed off peace­fully, he said, and re­porters who called in the re­sults to media from mo­bile phones, es­pe­cially ra­dio sta­tions, cov­er­ing the event.

The last 15 years have seen or­gan­i­sa­tions such as “Y en a marre” (We are sick of it) in Sene­gal, “Balai citoyen” (Cit­i­zen sweep-up) in Burk­ina Faso and “Lutte pour le change­ment” (Fight for change) in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo ap­pear, in­tent on press­ing gov­ern­ments to be less opaque.

De­spite the trend to­wards more trans­par­ent elec­tions, heavy handed govern­ment re­ac­tions have not en­tirely van­ished, with in­ter­net and so­cial media shut­downs dur­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Uganda in Fe­bru­ary and in Congo-braz­zav­ille in March, and now in Gabon.

“The African Union ob­servers couldn’t even com­mu­ni­cate prop­erly to com­plete their tasks,” Mbodji said, re­fer­ring to the Congo elec­tion that re­turned long­time leader De­nis Sas­sou Nguesso to power.

But even the con­ti­nent’s most en­trenched lead­ers couldn’t es­cape the ef­fect of the ti­dal wave of in­for­ma­tion the in­ter­net made pos­si­ble, said Hounkpe.

“Those in power have less and less ca­pac­ity to ma­nip­u­late the process.” — AFP

Sup­port­ers of Gabonese op­po­si­tion leader Jean ping face se­cu­rity forces block­ing the demon­stra­tion try­ing to reach the elec­toral com­mis­sion .

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