Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

18 November 2012

Africa: Are Political Outcomes Random?

opinion

Africa has made very good progress in building institutions and in promoting democratic practices on the political front. However, there is some way to go in some countries where reversals of democratic practices have been reversed.

Indeed, the Arab Spring revolutions also point to challenges of in the area of voice and accountability that is potentially explosive when combined with youth unemployment.

One important question that ought to be answered is, then, that whether political elections outcomes in Africa are random.

Overall, available researches show that between 1960 and 2010, 80pc of the presidential and legislative elections results were accepted, 18pc resulted in a coalition and two per cent resulted in a standoff. Incumbents tend to win elections they organise with a 71pc probability.

When incumbents lose, they tend to reject the results 79pc of the time. The challenger tends not to contest the results; contestation occurs in only seven per cent of the cases. However, the challenger's contestation rate is higher for presidential election, at 12pc, than for legislative elections, two per cent.

Surely, every election tends to be a unique event in time. Electoral conditions even within the same country vary a lot from time to time.

The final outcome of an election depends on several factors including the economic performance of the incumbent, the provision of public goods, institutional factors, social factors, the incumbent characteristics, the challenger's characteristics, the electoral system, historical and geographical factors and initial conditions.

Social factors seem to have strong effect on electoral outcomes. Observing that the most frequent electoral outcome in Africa is the incumbent wins with no contestant of results and stays in power. This suggests that when voters get access to higher education, and obtain a better understanding of the political, social and economic situation of their country, they are more likely to contest the reelection of the incumbent if they deem it fraudulent.

Ethnic fractionalisation also significantly affects electoral outcomes. This seems expected as conflicting ethnic interest is a strong additional motivation for the incumbent to fight for reelection.

In terms of political factors, an additional 5-year mandate in power significantly decreases the probability of incumbent losing, and in fact increases the probability of the incumbent winning. This is in line with the fact that the appetite for power increases with the time spent in power, and generally reflects the advantage of incumbency.

If the opposition is strong, the incumbent is less likely to cling to power or win without contestation as expected since the cost of electoral fraud and results rejection are high. Challenges have more freedom to campaign and contestation is more likely to occur.

Changing the political system from multiparty to single party decreases the probability of an incumbent losing and the result is contested. Accepting defeat is not a big deal in a single party election since power remains under the party control no matter the election outcome. For the same reason there is no need to cling to power when losing.

If the incumbent is from the military, the probability of the incumbent losing and contestation increases by 0.12pc. This result can be explained by the fact military incumbents are more likely to come to power through political coup and govern by force causing voter discontent in the long run.

To legitimise their power and demonstrate their popularity to the international community, military incumbents often organise "democratic elections". Voters are likely to express their discontent through the ballot and the incumbent is likely to lose. Because incumbents did not expect to lose and want to hold power, they will not concede defeat.

Rigorous economic analyses performed on African elections show that the number of years spent in power can significantly turn the odds in favor of an incumbent winning and staying in power instead of conceding deaf to the challenger. For an additional year spent in power by the incumbent, there is a relative likelihood of 0.08pc that an election results in challenger becoming the new incumbent. Economic performance and social factors do not seem to not matter much for this likelihood.

Switching from multiparty elections to single party elections significantly turn the odds in favor of incumbent winning. If the incumbent is from the military, the probability that the incumbent loses and causes a standoff or results contested is nine times higher.

Military incumbents are to a higher degree expected to lose and cling to power than they are to win without contestation. If a country has a moderate natural resource endowment instead of no or few natural resources, then, the odds are higher that the outcome is incumbent winning against the incumbent losing that results in contestation and standoff.

As it stands, then, Africa politics is both predictable and patterned.

Mthuli Ncube (prof.) is Chief Eonomicst and Vice President of the African Development Bank (afdb). This commentary is adopted from a research result published first on the bank's website.

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