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In the video, a candidate is offering to pay a mayor for support in a local election and promises that once he’s in office he will “do everything by the book.” Not likely, said Thierry Uwamahoro, a senior program officer with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).
“Vote buying is rarely an isolated action, and it perpetuates corruption throughout the entire political system. When a candidate chooses to pay for support, rather than compete fairly for votes, they show a disregard for democratic norms and a willingness to use illegal means,” Uwamahoro said. “If they see that buying off supporters worked during the election, what is to stop them from using that strategy in other areas of governance?”
Broadly speaking, vote buying obstructs the democratic process by interfering with the rights of citizens to freely decide who will represent them and their interests. “This can result in the candidate with the deepest pockets winning the election, rather than the candidate who would best serve their constituents,” Uwamahoro said. Ideally, elections create a “social contract” between candidates and constituents who voted with the presumption that the candidates will govern along the lines of their stated policy platforms.
“Vote buying enables poor governance and undercuts citizens’ ability to hold their elected officials accountable. If a candidate believes all they need to do to be elected is pay off voters and government officials, they will have no incentive to be responsive to issues their constituents care about — issues like water and sanitation, education and unemployment,” Uwamahoro said.
Along with damaging the candidate’s credibility, vote buying deters aspiring political leaders from running for office because it suggests that money, rather than ideas or experience, is how to win an election. “That discourages qualified candidates from running for office, while entrenching corrupt officials in their positions,” Uwamahoro said. In places where vote buying is common, candidates face the dilemma of needing to mobilize most of their resources to buy the votes and assuming office with significant debts from campaigning.
“According to international standards, in a true democracy every citizen has the right to stand for office, subject to reasonable restrictions.” Vote buying makes it impossible to meet these standards by penalizing potential candidates who are at an economic disadvantage. especially women and minority politicians, Uwamahoro said.
Ask yourself: Do you know any potentially great public officials who won’t seek office because the cost is too high?
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