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Vote buying

Mutale Nalumango has advised voters in Katuba Constituency “not to accept to be bought for a bag of mealie-meal.

“Let us fight, let’s struggle so that we can have a better tomorrow. It is dangerous for you to sell your vote for a bag of mealie-meal because that amounts to selling the future of your children,” advises Nalumango.

Vote buying occurs when a political party or candidate seeks to buy the vote of a voter in an upcoming election. Vote buying can take various forms such as a monetary exchange, as well as an exchange for necessary goods or services. This practice is often used to incentivize or persuade voters to turn out to elections and vote in a particular way. Despite the fact that this practice is illegal, its prevalence remains in our elections.

Since 1991, we have had regular multiparty elections in which vote buying has played some role. Cash handouts to voters represent a big part of the average parliamentary candidates’ campaign budget, making up the largest budget item. These handouts are made in various ways including stops on the campaign trail, and at large campaign rallies.

Access to information is a huge factor in determining the success of vote buying. If the voters have little access to political information or lack political knowledge, then they are more likely to be swayed by clientelistic reasoning. Moreover, if the voter does have access to information about an incumbent, then the price to sway their vote is more likely to go up. Additionally, Zambians tend to value candidates who provide rewards because their ability to do so points to how great their abilities will be once they are in office.

One of the main concerns with vote buying lies in the question of which population or group of voters are most likely to be susceptible to accepting compensation in exchange for their vote. It is the weakly opposed voters that are the best ones to target for vote buying. This means that in a situation in which there are two parties running for office, for example, the voters who are not inclined to vote one way or the other are the best to target. It is people of lower income status who are the best group to target, as they are the most likely to be receptive to monetary or other forms of compensation. The wealthy are presumably not in need of money, goods or services, thus it would require a much larger compensation in order to sway their vote. However, citizens who reside within poor communities are in great need of income, or medical services to feed their families and keep them in good health. A much smaller sum of cash or a medical prescription would be of much greater value and thus their political support can be much easier to purchase.

There are several negative consequences that arise from the practice of vote buying.

The presence of vote buying poses a very serious threat to our multiparty democracy as it interferes with our ability to rely on a popular vote as a measure of our people’s support for potential governments’ policies.

Another noted consequence is that the autonomy of Zambian voters is undermined. Since getting paid or receiving rewards for their votes generates a form of income that they may need to support themselves or their families, they have no autonomy to cast the vote that they truly want. This is extremely problematic because if it is the most corrupt politicians who are engaging in vote buying, then it is their interests that they remain the ones that dictate how the country is going to be run. This, in turn, perpetuates corruption in the system even further creating an unbreakable cycle.

Thirdly, vote buying can create a dependency of voters on the income or goods that they are receiving for their votes, and can further perpetuate a type of poverty trap. If they are receiving medicine from their communities’ broker for example, if this tie is cut off then they may no longer have access to this necessity. It can be true that the broker in that community has no interest or incentive to actually increase the standards of living of the community members, as it is very possible that they are only interested in getting whatever share of the profit they are entitled to for working for the party. Additionally, if the goods or money are coming directly from a candidate, this candidate’s only wish is to maintain their power. That being said, they may provide services but their real interest may lie in keeping the voters dependent on the rewards they are providing in order to stay in power.

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