Buying votes

2009-03-30 00:00

Electoral malpractice takes many forms, from the illegal positioning of party posters to outright political violence and even murder. There are no-go areas, intimidation and the disruption of party meetings. Much of this is not new and one of the oldest tricks in the book is to buy votes through the distribution of gifts.

It has become evident that this form of abuse is now happening on a large scale. Earlier this month opposition parties were outraged when African National Congress president Jacob Zuma was allowed by a charity organisation to hand out its aid packages to families in Mpumalanga. The Democratic Alliance in Gauteng has reported complaints that state welfare officials were demanding support for the ANC in return for special poverty relief grants. The Inkatha Freedom Party was blamed for the stampede in Estcourt when some 2 000 destitute people rushed to receive promised food vouchers and a free breakfast, while in the Bulwer and Donnybrook areas the ANC has been accused of using Social Development food vouchers to procure votes (with complaints coming from Bulwer that the recipients did not receive full value from their vouchers).

It is patently obvious that political parties that can access and control state resources in particular areas are using social relief to influence voters. Despite the fact that the electoral code of conduct specifically debars this practice — to quote, “no person may induce or reward any person to vote or not to vote in any particular way” — precious little has thus far been done to check it, nor have the parties involved made any significant effort to distance themselves from it. The bottom line is that major political parties are wittingly contravening the electoral code and using state resources, financed with taxpayers’ money, to lure or to coerce potential voters. It may not be violent, but it certainly contradicts the principle of a free and fair election. When the votes are counted, will they really be a true reflection of people’s choices regarding the way they want to be governed?

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