Threats, bribes and stuffed ballot boxes may sound like a political drama, but these are all real issues that Africans face during national elections, a public opinion study has revealed.
The results, published by pan-African research institute Afrobarometer paint a dire picture of trust in the democratic process on the continent, where less than half (44%) of people across the 36 countries surveyed say they trust their national electoral commission only somewhat or a lot.
People in countries with upcoming elections, or who have had elections recently, expressed some of the lowest levels of trust, says lead author Peter Penar, a researcher and lecturer in political science at Michigan State University.
This month after opposition leader Jean Ping lost by less than 6,000 votes.
There, 51 per cent have no trust at all in their election commission, and a mere 25 per cent say they trust them a lot or somewhat.
“Those are all very alarming numbers and, it shows an extreme lack of confidence,” Penar says.
The survey was based on face-to-face interviews with between 1,200 and 2,400 people in each of the 36 countries.
While individuals’ responses are not published, the researchers have identified a number of key factors contributing to the lack of trust.
A history of vote manipulation entrenched in people’s memories, lack of transparency of election monitoring bodies and corruption all influence people’s trust in the system and many are afraid when casting their vote, the researchers found.
But what worries people the most is the counting of votes, Penar says, with 38 per cent of Africans believing votes are only sometimes or even never counted.
Vote counts can be tampered with in many ways, according to Penar.
“[This happens] at the polling stations. Stuffing ballots, double voting, multiple voting.”
Methods for swaying voters may also include threats, actual violence and bribery.
Bribery is commonplace in some countries, the study showed.
The practice is illegal, and so rather than asking people whether they have accepted bribes, researchers posed the more indirect question of how often people in the country face bribery around election time.