Once a non-existent practice in Liberian politics, cash violence has increasingly become the new electoral “vampire.” This violence undermines the fundamental purpose of elections, frustrates democratic growth, and poses significant risks to peace, security, and stability. In terms of socioeconomic development, Liberia will “stay long inside”—a Liberian expression for being enmeshed in a long struggle – if we allowed this emergent “vampire” to feed on our nascent democracy. Cash violence robs the electorates of their constitutional right to choose their leaders. Even worse, it makes elections results highly susceptible to the influence of the highest bidder. Cash violence must stop if Liberia is to truly have fair elections.
Cash Violence Practice
Cash violence is the practice of political candidates buying the votes of poor voters and trucking them to register and vote in electoral districts where they have no right to exercise such political activity. As the term implies, cash violence often involves the use of large sums of money—usually ill-gotten—by politicians to exploit their kinsmen, who are usually burdened by harsh socioeconomic conditions.
It is common knowledge that candidates can pay each “bought” voter a sum between US$20 to US$40. Using the US$20 pay rate as an example, a politician, thus, will pay a whopping—by Liberian standards—US$20,000 to receive the votes of 1000 vote sellers, in addition to underwriting their transportation and feeding costs.
Cash violence had an important effect in the 2011 elections as some legislative winners reportedly boasted of buying their jobs. In the 2014 senatorial elections, moreover, the role of cash violence was equally obvious. And as 2017 approaches, electoral strategists are factoring cash violence into their campaign plans.
The Dangers of Cash Violence
Stakeholders, including donors, who will be pumping money into Liberia’s 2017 electoral process, need to more forceful to address the issue of cash violence. Let’s stop sticking our heads in the sand like an ostrich, ignoring the menace and hoping that it will eventually go away. It won’t! Politicians with deep pockets find cash violence attractive because it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.
Cash violence has bad effects on our body politic. It undermines Abraham Lincoln’s symbolic definition of democracy being a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” When politicians pay, truck, or bus citizens from different parts of the country to vote in the other electoral districts in order to influence the outcome of elections, this is not “a government of and by the people.” And usually, it ends up not being a government “for” the people as well.
A recent University of Michigan study indicated that vote-buying “has been associated with reduced accountability and trust, increased corruption, and inefficient public administration.”
Elections allow people to express their faith in candidates to effectively represent them, as well as to change their leaders when they desire. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution says, “…the people shall have the right …to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular election[s]…” Cash violence undercuts this constitutional tenet.
Communities have begun to complain about the growing influence of vote selling during elections. During the senatorial election of 2014, heated arguments broke out between some community residents and “bought” voters from Monrovia about the latter’s interference in the elections in Dimen, a town in Bomi County.
These arguments, fortunately, did not escalate into violence. Nevertheless, a high probability exists that cash violence will provoke physical violence in future elections, especially since the country’s electorates are generally unhappy with the performance of those elected leaders who engage in cash violence.
Cash violence deprives the people of the ability to decide who represents them. It also destroys the very purpose for which elections are held. What’s the point of spending so much money to hold elections if the people’s votes cannot determine the winner? Is it good governance? Is this not a recipe for frustrations and physical violence?
About the Author
Zobong holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Northeastern University in Boston, United States. He teaches in the Graduate Program in Education at the University of Liberia.