Author:Justin Willis (Durham University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates public attitudes to electoral manipulation and breaks new ground by identifying a moral economy of elections in which commitment to democratic norms is – in part at least – conditioned by self-interest and political allegiance.
Paper long abstract:
The academic literature on Africa tends to depict electoral manipulation as something that is done by political elites to ordinary voters. In line with this, nationally representative surveys conducted by the authors in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda show general - though by no means universal - condemnation for behaviours that break formal electoral rules. However, they also reveal that there are some forms of manipulation that voters encourage, endorse, or at least accept. In other words, some types of problematic behaviour, such as vote buying, are actually demanded by citizens, while others, such as ballot box stuffing, are not. As a result, politicians become locked into forms of behaviour of dubious democratic character in part because they are likely to find it harder to win popular support if they abstain. Through a discussion of debates and behaviours in six constituencies across East and West Africa, we investigate and seek to explain these patterns. In so doing, we demonstrate that voters make a distinction between behaviours that they see as being "wrong and punishable" - most notably, the use of violence and ballot box stuffing - and behaviours which they see as possibly wrong, but not deserving of punishment, such as vote buying. These findings suggest a problematic moral economy of elections, in which commitment to democratic norms is - in part at least - conditioned by self-interest and political allegiance.
The changing face of electoral manipulation in Africa