The Concept and history of Elections
Come November 2014, Namibia goes to the polls to vote for the next leader of the nation and as this is to take charge it has been propounded that the youth believe to a new era of hope. Employment squabbles aggravating the hope for development, it is important to grasp the election concept tracing them to its origins amongst the African youth. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century.
Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organizations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.
They were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. In medieval India, around 920 AD, in Tamil Nadu, palm leaves were used for village assembly elections. The leaves, with candidate names written on them, were put inside a mud pot for counting.
This was known as the Kudavolai system. Ancient Arabs also used election to choose their caliph, Uthman and Ali, in the early medieval Rashidun Caliphate.
The bible also serves as another way of tracking the history of election were people casted lots, the allegory of Jonah and the sinking ship. The modern "election", which consists of public elections of government officials, didn’t emerge until the beginning of the 17th century when the idea of representative government took hold in North America and Europe.
Historically, other groups of people have been excluded from voting. For instance, the democracy of ancient Athens did not allow women, foreigners, or slaves to vote, and the original United States Constitution left the topic of suffrage to the states; usually only white male property owners were able to vote. Much of the history of elections involves the effort to promote suffrage for excluded groups.
The women’s suffrage movement gave women in many countries the right to vote, and securing the right to vote freely was a major goal of the American civil rights movement. Extending voting rights to excluded groups such as convicted felons, members of certain minorities, and the economically disadvantaged continues to be a goal of voting rights advocates even in Namibia.
However, in post-colonial Africa when elections are called, politicians and their supporters attempt to influence policy by competing directly for the votes of constituents in their campaigns as an essential component in any modern democracy since it helps the competing candidates to convince the electorate thus making it easy to hold them accountable.
Furthermore, the media has been essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices.
Furthermore, media acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process. Indeed, a democratic election with no media freedom, or stifled media freedom, would be a contradiction in terms. This century has brought about new media which consists of the Internet, mobile phones, social media such as blogs and micro-blogs (such as Twitter and SinaWeibo), social networking websites like Facebook, video-sharing sites such as YouTube, and others. In other words, new media is a broad term that describes a range of media that are utilized for many different purposes. Some of the things that make new media different from traditional media during elections are that they use digital, online and mobile technology and function in real-time and usually borderless. The most common reason why African elections do not meet international standards of being "free and fair" is interference from the incumbent government. Dictators have been using the powers of the executive (police, martial law, censorship, physical implementation of the election mechanism, etc.) to remain in power despite popular opinion in favor of removal.
The electorate, especially the youth are poorly informed about issues or candidates due to lack of freedom of the press, lack of objectivity in the press due to state control, or lack of access to news and political media. Freedom of speech has been curtailed by the state, favouring certain viewpoints or state propaganda and this is the major reason why the youth are in a somber atmosphere bout the next decade.
Youths are being sidelined in the electoral processes and are not participating in the reorganization of the African political dogma. African regimes should make efforts to and emphasize on youth participation in elections as they are the future and custodians of the African heritage.