By Abiodun Egunjobi
The etymology of the word democracy is Greek; “demos,” meaning common people, and “kratos,” meaning rule or strength. Therefore, democracy is supposed to be the rule of common people. It is thus expected that, in the exercise of their democratic rights, the common people will exhibit their rule or strength.
With the presidential and other elections a few months away in Liberia, one feels compelled to examine the arrangements, so far made for the elections, whether they adequately satisfy this critical test of being an exercise in the right of the common people to freely express themselves and enjoy the benefits of democracy.
In many instances, the purpose of an election is to choose a leader and/or legislative body/ies made of winners chosen by the people. For these purposes, a country is constituted into constituencies and apportioned; that is the country undergoes a process by which its states, regions, or districts are awarded seats, usually according to population counted in a census.The reality in many countries is that the way constituencies are created and assigned seats can dramatically and significantly affect the results of the elections. Consequently, the apportionment process is always well scrutinized to ensure that the results are not skewed in favor of a particular party/ies or individual/s. Therefore, the apportionment process is always executed long before elections are due.
But the process is known to be prone to several underhanded abuses. Redistricting, compelled by several developments, especially changes in population, is the process by which the borders of constituencies are redrawn once apportioned. It is a process that can become highly politically contentious, because of the possibilities of both mal-apportionment, i.e. unequal ratios of representatives to population ratios between districts, and gerrymandering, where electoral districts are manipulated for political gain.
Following is the apportionment table for the forthcoming elections in Liberia in October. It shows the number of representatives allotted to each district.
|1||Bomi||Tubmanburg||82,036||1,942 km2 (750 sq mi)||4||1984|
|2||Bong||Gbarnga||328,919||8,772 km2 (3,387 sq mi)||12||1964|
|3||Gbarpolu||Bopolu||83,758||9,689 km2 (3,741 sq mi)||6||2001|
|4||Grand Bassa||Buchanan||224,839||7,936 km2 (3,064 sq mi)||8||1839|
|5||Grand Cape Mount||Robertsport||129,055||5,162 km2 (1,993 sq mi)||5||1844|
|6||Grand Gedeh||Zwedru||126,146||10,484 km2 (4,048 sq mi)||3||1964|
|7||Grand Kru||Barclayville||57,106||3,895 km2 (1,504 sq mi)||18||1984|
|8||Lofa||Voinjama||270,114||9,982 km2 (3,854 sq mi)||6||1964|
|9||Margibi||Kakata||199,689||2,616 km2 (1,010 sq mi)||4||1985|
|10||Maryland||Harper||136,404||2,297 km2 (887 sq mi)||2||1857|
|11||Montserrado||Bensonville||1,144,806||1,909 km2 (737 sq mi)||17||1839|
|12||Nimba||Sanniquellie||468,088||11,551 km2 (4,460 sq mi)||6||1964|
|13||Rivercess||Rivercess||65,862||5,594 km2 (2,160 sq mi)||6||1985|
|14||River Gee||Fish Town||67,318||5,113 km2 (1,974 sq mi)||6||2000|
|15||Sinoe||Greenville||104,932||10,137 km2 (3,914 sq mi)||17||1843|
For example, Bomi County with a population of 82,036 has 4 representatives, while Grand Kru with a population of 57,106 has 18; Grand Gedeh with a population of 126,146 has only 3 representatives, while Grand Kru with a population of 57,106 has 18; Montserrado with a population of 1,144,806 has 17 representatives, while Rivercess with a population of 65,862 has been apportioned 6 representatives. There are others! The inconsistencies in the apportionment are quite disturbingly glaring and one wonders how conscionable the people who came up with these arrangements were. One can only hope that there are no underlying reasons for these blatant mal-apportionments.
While some districts are definitely overrepresented, others are clearly underrepresented. Have the principles of democracy; equity, justice, and fairness been deliberately jettisoned or thrown away to dogs?
Whoever made these arrangements need to be reminded of a few facts about the country Liberia. For one, they need to be reminded that the effective functioning of a democracy is predicated on four principles;
- · Justice: All citizens should be equal before the law; they have the right to a fair trial and exercise of their voting rights; and, governments are expected to be subject to the rule of law.· Equity: All citizens should have equal opportunity to participate fully in the democratic process regardless of income, gender, religion, race or ethnicity.· Freedom: All citizens should have their fundamental freedoms protected, such as the right to free speech and the right of assembly.· Representation: That all citizens are equally involved in the selection of the members of government to ensure that the resultant government reflects the will of the people.
- In addition to these, they need to be reminded of the purpose and functions of elections which are:
- [a] to give the voters the choice of who should represent them; [b] to elect representatives who will act on behalf of their community and of individuals in relation to government decisions and government departments; [c] to produce a legislature that reflects the main trends of opinion among the electorate; [d] to produce a government that is in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the electorate; [e] to produce a strong and stable government; and [f] to confer legitimacy on elected governments.