Election Reflections: Delivery or Democracy

Nigeria Decides 2015

Nothing screams incompetence in the parlance of this election like being unable to “deliver” your polling unit. This is typically leveled at politicians whose party lose at a polling unit that is considered theirs. What does it mean for a polling unit to belong to a politician? This claim of possession is itself arrogant appropriation, and imperialist in ambition, like colonisation where the powerful lays claim on resources to be used to their advantage. This micro-imperialism is why it sounds absurd to accuse a typical voter for failing to “deliver” their polling unit, because he/she is not expected to deliver anything, but be delivered… on a plate… to the “imperial crown”, which are political parties, as booty of election campaign. This has been business as usual in past elections, and this ongoing election I’d argue.

There have been counter campaigns urging voters to “deliver” their polling units and states; as opposed to having the typical politicians deliver to whichever masters they happen to be serving. At first glance this looks like a counter movement, but on closer look it is actually simply a competition to the regular politician that “delivers”. The ordinary voters who take the mandate to deliver their polling units are also answering the calls of another party, just like the typical politicians, only that they may not be as crooked and may not have the resources to mobilise in the same manner. This has been one of the genius of the opposition party; getting voters to take up the mission to deliver without funding them, which gives them the inner comfort of living the democratic ideal. In Marxist jargons, these are the petty-bourgeois who see the revolution not as the end of capitalism, but that they also attain bourgeois privileges. In the past, “delivery” of polling booth was mandated on politicians alone, this time around voters have been empowered to deliver their booths; but both competing groups deliver to political parties. So rather than a few people taking a credit for delivering their polling units, so many can now share in the glory, which is why it appears democratic. Unless it is through reasoning (public debates etc), a presumptuous leadership role to “deliver” is undemocratic (ideally). Delivery by politicians and by voters have the same goal, and the same assumptions, even if different methods, so one is not contrary to the other. The contradiction is then between “delivery” and ideals of democracy.

The idea of delivery, of anything, seems positive, being reminiscent of birth i.e. appearance of long awaited fruit of labour. The other meaning of delivery is in the sense of postal service where the mail man takes a certain object and gets it to customer. In movies of the ancient, this would be analogous to a servant serving a master. Or more appropriately an imperial band of “traders” delivering slaves to the home of the crown. It is in this latter sense that politicians are expected to deliver; the politicians are the servants and the political party (or its personified leader) is the one served (crown). That politicians are “servants”; their master is not the people but their political parties, and individual votes are the objects that are delivered. This is objectification of the populace and dehumanisation of voters for ease of appropriation. An object (vote) doesn’t have a will in itself because the will is usurped by political party they align with through the agents of “delivery”.

This idea of “delivery” is so prevalent that a failure of a politician to deliver is not simply seen as victory of the people (triumph of democracy) but it is seen as successful delivery by another individual from the opposition party; this is how the opposition perceive it. So either way, the voters cannot claim triumph or even responsibility on the most basic of their entitlement which democracy offers. This belief goes so deep that even when people celebrate the triumph of democracy, they do so by celebrating the failure of a politician to deliver; which also means the opposing politician has delivered. Many “activists” and commentators are guilty of this when they celebrate democracy by putting emphasis in shaming the failure of a politician to deliver.

An alternative to this stark analysis/reading of our election culture would be to consider the charge to “deliver” as a show of a person’s popularity at their polling unit. On the face of it this may seem plausible but it doesn’t stand when contextualised. First of all, the typical politician does not have grassroot support, instead is able to afford the monetary cost of sponsored support. When we shame Goodluck, Namadi etc for being unable to “deliver” their polling units, we are not assuming they are somehow representative of their peoples concerns; as economists would say demand in a market economy. What we mean in that usage is that they didn’t “mobilise” voters in their locations; or their mobilisation efforts failed. Wittgenstein simplified the issue of meaning of words by saying words’ meaning should be sought in their use. It is in this Wittgensteinian semantic that we conclude that the shaming of politicians is really in the sense of expecting them to be lords over their voters. Hence the contradiction to democratic ideals.

So do you want delivery or democracy?

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