By Alan Bird, Governor of East Sepik Province
Is it possible to bribe the voters?
I see some smart commentators talking about transport, food and drink being provided by candidates at rallies saying it’s wrong and constitutes bribery.
First of all, I don’t believe our voters are stupid. Certainly not in Sepik. Sepik voters are mature, they will accept transport, food and drinks from ALL candidates who provide it and it will not influence them. They will still vote for the candidates of their choice.
Sepik voters want to know if the person they are electing will not only deliver on goods and services but will also stand in Parliament and speak for them. They have very exact standards of who they want. This is my experience over 3 elections. This is my 4th election.
Perhaps in NCD or Lae, supporters can catch a bus to a rally, spend an hour there and return home on the next bus. This is not so in ESP. For a villager to attend a rally for a candidate can mean catching a PMV at 7am, not having breakfast and returning home at 7pm just to hear a 20 minute campaign speech. Naturally they expect the candidate to pay for the transport and provide a meal. Why should they pay to attend 20 rallies if there are 20 candidates?
Alternatively, candidates have to go to each village. Even then, every village has a stage set up to be hired by candidates. They also have several string bands or singing groups ready to perform for a fee. They will also have a mother’s group ready to cook food which the candidate has to pay for.
The other peculiar thing in ESP is that supporters of a candidate will build a “Campaign House” for him/her. Then they expect the candidate to provide tea/coffee/sugar so they can sit around and talk politics for the entire campaign period. This is the hard one, do you say no to all the campaign houses built in your name without your consent? If one village supports 5 candidates, they will build one Haus each per candidate! My immediate village has 8 campaign houses right now (for open candidates and one for me).
When an NGO or government has a training workshop, consultation or other activity, participants are provided transport, meals, accommodation and allowances. This could cost around K500 per day for each participant. If a villager is expected to attend a rally and not his cocoa or vanilla garden and has an expectation of free transport and a biscuit and drink costing K3, surely that is not an unreasonable expectation for his or her 12 hour day?
People talk about bribery alot and I suppose it happens. I have never experienced it myself but say I need 12,000 votes to win an open seat. Each voter asks for a K100 bribe and I pay it, that’s K1.2m, say you buy 12,000 T shirts at K20 each, that’s K240,000. Say you need fuel, posters, a hire car, you get campaign coordinators, etc, and that’s another K200,000. These are crazy numbers.
Elections are not cheap. If you have a budget of K500,000, that will only cover your logistics. It’s hardly enough to bribe 12,000 voters.
In the case of a Provincial seat, it’s much more expensive. I received 88,000 votes in 2017. If I bribed my voters at K100 each it would cost me K8.8m. The person who came second scored 64,000 votes so if he bribed them too, he would have had to spend K6.4m.
The smart move would be to bribe the polling officials and the security officers. Less people to bribe and it’s much cheaper. They can then do something illegal to get you declared. But then is it worth spending 8 years in jail for that?
Many people who have never run a campaign have no idea what it costs to run one.
So give our voters some credit, our people are not stupid. They know what they are doing.