Sunday, November 25, 2018

2019 Elections: Why the Third Force Will Not Win, and What We Should Do After They Lose

Idea in Brief: The chances of a third-force candidate emerging President in 2019 are slim. Winning the presidency in Nigeria is expensive and the field is crowded. In the unlikely event of a third-force victory, governance would be near impossible. This does not mean we will be led by the current crop forever. We must support the brilliant new Presidential candidates and continue to engage with a view for the long term.
In 1992, Ross Perot, an independent candidate for President of the United States, won 18.9% of the popular vote. Despite winning no electoral votes, his campaign is described as one of the most successful third-force bids for presidency of the United States. No one has been elected to the US Presidency without running on the platform of one of the six major parties the US has had throughout its existence.

It is exciting that brilliant people like Oby Ezekwesili and Kingsley Moghalu are running for President and articulating a fresh vision for Nigeria. What is unexciting is the reality that the chances of a third-force victory in 2019 are infinitesimally slim. In the highly unlikely scenario of a third-force victory, it is difficult to see how they could successfully govern without representation in the National Assembly.

First, winning the Presidency in Nigeria requires machinery – lots of it. Candidates must campaign across the country, as they need to win the most votes and at least 25% of the votes in 24 of the 36 states. This requires a lot of money and resources. They must also solicit votes from the many Nigerians who don’t have Twitter and require engagement offline. This will require them to rent venues and audio equipment for campaigns, and run TV, radio, print, and billboard adverts in different languages.

Second, there isn’t one third force. Instead, there are many forces vying for third position. While it is good that many candidates have put their names forward for the office of president, the crowded playing field gives the advantage to the two big parties. PACT – Presidential Aspirants Coming Together – showed initial promise but failed to gather support and has arguably not put its best foot forward. The third force is more likely to disrupt what is otherwise a two-horse race if they pool resources and present a united front.

If a third-force candidate were to miraculously win the elections, how would they govern without a significant number of seats or an outright majority in the Senate and House of Representatives? To understand this concern, look no further than the current Presidency and the difficulties they have faced passing annual budgets. Despite a decent number of seats in both houses (including 47 of 109 senators), President Buhari’s 2018 budget was passed seven months after it was submitted. How would a third-force candidate drive lasting change without support in both houses? Would they govern by Executive Order?

So, what should we do? Will Nigeria remain in the grasp of the APC and PDP forever? What should the brilliant people who would challenge the lackluster leadership of President Buhari do?

The answer for the candidates is to run for office, like they are already doing. The answer for us, citizens, is to support the candidacy of these brave people, donate to their campaigns, and vote for candidates with the best ideas and strongest manifestos. The important thing is we must realize we are in this for the long term. When our candidates don’t win in 2019, we must continue to build and engage with a view for the future. We must understand that it takes time, effort, and consistency to build a party that can mount a successful challenge for the Presidency in Nigeria.

The candidates must continue to build their political parties beyond 2019. They must remain focused on connecting with the grassroots and developing a machinery that extends offline. They must recruit candidates to run for state and national assemblies and other leadership positions. They must acknowledge the sheer difficulty of competing with parties who roll out stomach infrastructure and the resulting need for sustained engagement. Therefore, they must continue to publish their thoughts on policy and strive to reach the masses in a language they understand.

While I will be voting for someone other than President Buhari or Atiku, I will do so knowing my preferred candidate will not win in 2019. I am in this for the long haul.

Are you?

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