By Nathan N. Mulbah
The impending October 2023 Legislative and Presidential elections are certainly germane to the development and consolidation of Liberia’s burgeoning democracy. It will certainly be the fourth post war democratic election in the Republic of Liberia. Elections have, by and large, become the conduit for the peaceful transitioning of one democratically elected government to another.
Elections, as it were, are very necessary in engendering peace and stability in democratic nations across the globe. In democratic nations were there have been the conduct of smooth elections, the story of national cohesion, stability and growth is conspicuously evident. On the contrary, in nations where there have been miscarriages of electioneering activities, the stories have never been supportive of national growth and development.
The explicit overarching lessons in the two scenarios are that elections are critical and indeed serve as a trajectory to national cohesion and peaceful coexistence or it could be a recipe for chaos and national disaster.
Undoubtedly, elections offer the electorate an opportunity to exercise their franchise and therefore ensure that they are governed by those vetted and elected by the majority of the registered voters. Certainly, voting is a civic responsibility that should be performed by all citizens of voting age. In our jurisdiction, 18 years of age and above are eligible to vote.
As a student of politics, we are inclined to think that, probably, the only price of premium value that we pay for being a citizen of a democratic nation is to turn out and vote whenever the occasion presents itself.
Writing in his book Understanding Politics, Dr. Afari Gyan said, “… a good citizen must not only vote regularly but vote intelligently”. The veteran Ghanaian Political Scientist and former Chairman of the Ghanaian Independent Electoral Commission further observed that “… no useful service to the community is performed by the citizen who comes Election Day, walks into a polling booth and drops his/her ballot paper into the ballot box without much prior thought about the meaning of his/her action. Instead, great harm to the society may result from widespread uncritical vote.”
Indeed, voting without prior deep consideration has the proclivity of catapulting to power a leadership that may not meet the aspiration of the voting populace. Elections, as crucial as they are, place enormous power in the electorate. They must use it judiciously whenever the opportunity avails itself.
Admittedly, there are constitutional provisions, statutes, protocols, code of conduct as well as agreements essentially governing the conduct of elections from one jurisdiction to another. But ultimately, the citizens of a country, in a particular electoral jurisdiction, are the best laws as the case may be.
Euphemistically put, it is the voters who can exercise control over their leaders by defining what they can and cannot do, and by making sure that they operate within the bounds of that definition.
Indeed, the voters, exercising political maturity by voting intelligently can call the shots. Look folks, civic minded people, conscious of their rights and determined to preserve them, can exercise considerable control over their leaders through periodic elections. By the power of their VOTE, a people can change their leaders at regular intervals. Where elections are free, fair and impartially conducted, they constitute an effective check on leaders; for any elected leader who proves to be unresponsive to popular feeling among the electorate, risks defeat during an election.
However, the issue here is that election takes place once in a number of years. In our jurisdiction, the term is fixed at six years for representative and presidential seat while for the senate seat it is put at nine years per term. But so much harm can be done by a people’s leader if there are no other ways of controlling during the period between elections.
So, when an electoral decision is about to be made through the ballot box, the electorates cannot afford to vote based on mere sentiments or other mundane basis. In this day and age, voters should strive not to vote for people for any other reasons other than qualification and the established and proven ability to lead and lead with sublimed passion essentially aimed at improving the wellbeing of the people. It was Aristotle, the great Greek Philosopher, who said that all political machinations should be aimed at the wellbeing (eudaimonia) of the people.
Prof. Kwadwo Afari Gyan has advised that voting is a critical process and upholding that criticality is what is described as voting intelligently. However, to vote intelligently, the voter must understand what happens in an electioneering campaign. During electioneering campaign, which is expected to unfold in Liberia commencing August 4, 2023, voters should be aware that there will be lots of resources flaunting all over the place. But one vital object to take note of is that some political resources which a candidate will display before the voters have no relationship whatsoever to his/her ability to do the job he/she is asking the people to be elected to.
Invariably, voting intelligently is linked to the notion of guarding against being taken in by the candidate’s negative use of propagandas and his or her irrelevant use of political capital. Mind you, people who are bent on ascending to national leadership will, more often than not, employ all kinds of propagandas and it is germane for the voters to be able to recognize negative propagandas and irrelevant political resources for what they are, and to realize that they are intended to get us to vote without thinking or worrying about the real merits of the candidate.
As voters, we must settle on what we want our country to be, and by extension, what typology of leaders we want to rule us. This can be done by painstakingly examining each candidate platform, credential and ability to lead the nation.
There are different methods of ascertaining a candidate’s suitability for ascension to elective posts. In this write-up, we will proffer some empty propagandas that are often use by some candidates and their supporters during political campaign. These pointers, at this critical juncture in the lead-up to the October 2023 polls, are intended to make all voters cognizant that when candidates go on the campaign trail, not all that pours from their lips are to be taken as law and gospel and on that basis, give them your precious vote. Political maturity requires that you thoroughly scrutinize the utterances and campaign messages of candidates prior to voting.
That said, let us mull over some forms and shapes of propagandas that are making the rounds during this 2023 elections like no man’s business. They include but are not limited to mudslinging, vagueness, scapegoating and endorsement. Others are bluff, rumor, appeal to specific interests and irrelevant political capital.
However, in this installment, we will look at vagueness, scapegoating and endorsement. An understanding of the three categories of political propaganda tools will put voters in a better position to effectively weigh a particular candidate and establish whether he or she can deliver the necessary political goods or has the gravitas required for the position they are opting to be elected to.
During political campaigning, a kind of name calling game is sometimes played in which a candidate pins a label with unpleasant connotations upon his or her opponent. In our local parlance, it is often said, “give the dog a bad name to hang it.” Mudslinging occurs when people paint a bad picture of an institution, individual or a group purely on malicious ground without any facts to authenticate the claims or allegations. Because political labels evoke a powerful emotive response, if we are not mindful, we may end up voting for or against labels and stereotypes instead of real candidates and their ideas.
In Critical Thinking and Logic, which is a core course in Philosophy, a thought is gauged as vague when it is ambiguous, lacks clarity and conveys no real message. Vague thoughts are, at best, packed with rhetoric and sometimes fine language and nothing more.
During political campaigning, a candidate indulges in lots of good talk without promising anything specific. The trend in this kind of political maneuvering is to speak in generalities and vague terms ostensibly to obscure the real meaning and bamboozle the electorate.
For example, a candidate may promise over and again that he/she will provide safe drinking water, construct farm to market roads, provide free education and all that jazz. Some of these candidates make these wide and vague promises without giving details on how they hope to achieve them. The razzmatazz sometimes goes on unending. What we gathered from such talks is that the candidate stands for whatsoever is good for the country on the Electoral District. But again, every candidate says that he/she stands for the same thing. So, in reality such talk tells us nothing about the candidate capacity to deliver on their promises.
On the other hand, however, when a candidate dwells on substantive issues as to how he/she hopes to attain the laid-down goals, then the voters can be assured that the campaign promises are not absolutely vague.
In practical terms, scapegoating is tantamount to shifting blame. The blame game from time in memorial has been a way of people passing on the bulk and not taking responsibility for their actions and inactions. In philosophical parlance, scapegoating will pass for fallacy. It is, to an extent, a kind of hasty generalization and or stereotyping. In election campaigning, scapegoating occurs when a candidate looms an otherwise differentiated group of people together and give them a bad name and blames them for some problem simply because most of them support the opposing candidate or a cause.
For example, a candidate may describe folks in national leadership as those responsible for the problems of Liberia without necessarily clearly indicating how and by what thermometer they see those in national leadership as being responsible for the country’s woes. Similarly, those in leadership blame those in political opposition to be responsible for the woes of the country.
Better still, a particular group could be branded as been responsible for the underdevelopment of the state without necessarily detailing how they have caused the state to be underdeveloped and how they hope to turn the tide for the better if they are preferred for national leadership.
For some unexplained reasons, the 2023 election project has been swamped with avalanche of political endorsements and strange bedfellow amalgamation of political parties irrespective of not having a cleared and similar policy platform. This trend has taken an outlook where group of people or organizations stage an elaborate program announcing their support for a particular candidate or political party in an election.
From where this neo-phenomenon emanated is hard to fathom but it is certainly gelling in our brand of electoral politics. All we can posit is that, like the concept of the selection of Vice Standard Bearer, political endorsement has come to be an interesting part and parcel of the emerging democratic Liberian politics. But political endorsement has also cuffed in the realm of political campaign propagandas, and this has manifested itself in many ways across Liberia to such an extent that if voters are not circumspect, they could think that because a particular candidate or party has been endorsed with unprecedented frequency, they are qualified to lead the country. They could get a rude shock if other factors underpinning efficient leadership are not considered when voting.
Endorsement becomes political campaign propaganda when a group of people or organizations organized a stage-managed program to openly throw their support behind a particular candidate or political party with the hope of sending a signal that the candidate or party being endorsed is popular and should be elected.
Endorsement as a political campaign propaganda has of late inundated the Liberian electoral space with scores of differentiated groups from almost every nook and cranny across the country endorsing one candidate and political party after the other.
Interestingly, during these endorsements' exercises, a lot of political praise singing, hosanna boys and girls posturing and chanting of illusive political support become the other of the day. Voters are therefore advised to be mindful of endorsement exercises that have got all the appurtenances of being staged–managed and smacks of pure political campaign propaganda.
Noticeably though, others political campaign propagandas that we should watch out for during these elections are bluff, rumor, appeal to specific interests and irrelevant political capital. Owing to the want for space we will not appraise the details of these political campaign propagandas tools in this write-up.
Realistically speaking, voters who are keen on electing leaders of substance should not be carried away by the myriad of electioneering campaign propagandas as discussed above. Voters should look up for vague political messages as well as messages embellished in scapegoating and or spurious political endorsements tactics as they will certainly be employed during this 2023 election by some candidates and political parties.
Going forward to the conduct of the much-vaunted 2023 Legislative and Presidential elections, ‘Yours Truly’ will like to advise all eligible voters to vote for candidate or political party base on their potential and proven leadership ability and not the wealth the candidate or party flaunt or the number of political choristers they are able to garner during rally and other political events. Electorate votes should be based on the candidate or party ability and capacity to appraise the pressing issues and ability to proffer the right and appropriate solutions and panacea for ensuring the well-being of the people.
Believe you me, by voting intelligently, taking into serious consideration the propagandas associated with the election campaign, we send out the message that we, as electorates, are out to find the crème-de la-crème amongst our fellow compatriots to lead us to noble destiny.
Undoubtedly, our call for voting intelligently in this 2023 Presidential and Legislative election is a clarion call to all qualified registered Liberian voters. Let us all vote intelligently to help strengthen Liberia’s burgeoning democracy.