The Economics of Vote Buying-Any Winner?

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 Source: Ayeboafo, Yaw Awuah Boadu

Vote buying, literally explains the phenomenon where candidates in an election solicit for votes by inducing prospective voters with monetary enticements, gifts and other promises to win their votes in order to gain advantage over other candidates. It can be ex ante or post ante. It is ex ante where direct payments or inducements are given prior to the election or post ante, where promises of payments and projects are honored upon the election of the candidate. Vote buying had been part of many electioneering contest, even though the practice is as criminal as bribery, for instance, where direct payments are made to solicit for votes.

In business acquisitions, mergers and takeovers, the practice is manifested in board room politics and maneuvers to woo majority executives and shareholders to the side of hostile bidders and predators with the offering of high bid price, improve efficiency and cost reduction strategy, and exploiting synergy with more investments. The problem of vote buying is controlled in business by the adherence to strict regulations, rigorous reporting standards, disclosures and internal corporate mechanisms as their aberrations attract sanctions from the market and regulatory authorities such as the SEC, stock exchanges and rating agencies.

In advanced political democracies vote buying is seen by the activities of lobbyist, corporate executives, professional organizations and other interest groups, who are wooed with contracts and legislative promises. For example the promise of reducing inheritance tax, corporate tax and equal rights for gay. However strong control and adherence to laws governing, lobbying, donations and public accountability of party financing have led to transparent process of electioneering.

In Africa and Ghana in particular, the phenomenon of vote buying in my view is as new as our participatory democracy. Hitherto, through the brute used of force, people forced themselves onto leadership and found it less urgent to woo the masses by buying their votes. With the advent of multi party democracy, the phenomenon crept into our system. Vote buying is observed by the giving out of monies, gifts and souvenirs to would be voters to cast their votes in the preferred manner of the giver. In Ghana, it is characterized by giving out 5000 cedies, party T-shirts, cutlasses, farm boots, chamber pots, roofing sheets, TVs, radio sets, awarding contracts and a seemingly dangerous strategy of vote buyers in Ghana has been the inciting and fanning of ethnic or tribal sentiments to win voters.

In an economic sense, vote buying can be viewed as a contract between the vote buyer (contestant) and the vote seller (voter). Invariably, the contestants who would be able to buy more voters with the highest bid price would eventually be the winner, if the vote casting process of the voter is predictable. However the buyer is confronted with uncertainty and makes vote buying contract highly risky. The inherent risk is due to the differences in information and incentives between the parties. Since the buyer cannot determine the bid price of his rival in order to out price him and the seller presumably does not loss directly when the buyer loses the election. Moreover, the inability of the buyer to observe the real vote cast by the voter further increases the risk of the transaction since the ballot is in secret. From the afore analysis, enforcing the vote buying contract is impossible or may be highly difficult since the voter can not be observed to honor his part of the contract having received his price and does not lose directly. The ultimate effect of such contract on the entire community would be detrimental since the vote buyer may finance his vote acquisitions through sources that may expose him to manipulations and control by lobbyist, interest groups and companies that financed the vote buying transaction if he or she wins. And even where the vote buyer finance the transaction through his own resources, the net effect would be beneficial to society if it were invested for instance, in some social service like the provision of books to needy children. Moreover, the selling of votes and trading of favors disarm the capacity of the electorate to demand accountability and good governance.

To protect the common good, strict political finance and campaign laws as well as anti money laundering laws have been fashioned out in certain democracies to control the problem. Even though, Ghana's constitution and political party laws codify rules and regulations for party financing and campaigning. Not with standing, due to ignorance, poor institutional framework and lackadaisical attitude of institutional leaders, the rules remain just in the books without functioning. An interesting phenomenon of the vote buyers' strategy of enforcement in Ghana and to ensure compliance is to invoke fear by asking potential vote sellers to wear an oath, inviting the wrath of sorcerers, juju men and bad omen to befall them if they renege on part of the contract. This enforcement strategy coupling with our belief system, poverty, illiteracy and inefficient judicial system play to the advantage of vote buyers who have deep pockets but lack initiative and drive to inspire change and development.

As various candidates go round Ghana for our votes in the forthcoming party primaries and the general elections, it should be each citizen’s concern to look out for signals from them. For instance in job search interviews, employers use academic certificates, experience, and demeanor as signals of performance. Similarly, the Ghanaian voter should be conscious of the signal from our prospective leaders. We should look out for signals of past works or experience, independence, integrity, initiative, drive and competence. I believe we have enough information about all the contestants and would continue to seek further information to make informed judgments. And to the vote buyers, shun away from the practice since you cannot objectively predict the voters’ action and risk humiliating defeat under the increasingly informed Ghanaian voter population who would like to sell their vote, not for anything but for competence and hard work.

Yaw Awuah Boadu Ayeboafo Tepa-Ashanti

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Ayeboafo, Yaw Awuah Boadu