Third-world voting system in UK? No, not really

By Estelle Shirbon
May 7, 2010

The airwaves have been filled with comments from furious voters who were unable to cast their ballots last night. We Brits think we can go around the world lecturing other countries on how to hold democratic elections, they say. But we can’t do it ourselves! We’re no better than those third-world countries!

I certainly wouldn’t want to minimise the frustration of the hundreds of people who wanted to vote and were not given a chance because of administrative mess-ups. I would be absolutely livid if it had happened to me.

Still, it’s worth putting things in perspective. Despite the hitches, Britain’s election was extraordinarily well-run compared with what goes on in so many less fortunate countries around the world.

The last time I covered a major election was in Nigeria in 2007. Now THAT was a truly awful election.

In many parts of the country, polling stations failed to materialise altogether. Even the president of the senate, the third most important person in Nigeria according to the constitution, was unable to vote in his home state of Enugu for lack of a functioning polling station.

A friend of mine who was acting as an independent observer in the state of Kogi said she arrived at a polling station at 11am to find there were no ballot papers in sight. When she queried this, she was told that every single person in the ward had already voted. There was no one in sight and the result, giving a huge win for the ruling PDP, was already agreed.

In Delta state, the number of people reported to have voted for the PDP was greater than the total number of residents of the state.

For my part, I visited a polling station in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state, where electoral officials were busy stuffing ballot boxes with stacks of ballot papers that had been marked in advance for the PDP. Some angry youths approached me to say they had been promised money by the PDP for “thumb-printing” hundreds of ballot papers, but they had not been paid yet even though they had upheld their part of the bargain.

A BBC crew in the neighbouring state of Rivers filmed thugs bursting into a polling station while voting was under way, snatching the ballot box and running away with it.

A European Union observer reported that in the impoverished state of Jigawa, he had seen men sell their votes to the PDP for 200 naira (90 pence). The price for a woman’s vote was 100 naira.

These are just a few snapshots from an election that was condemned as “not credible” by the European Union. Talk about disenfranchised voters. Nigeria has a population of 140 million. Only a tiny fraction of them were able to vote in a normal, peaceful way and to have their vote counted.

So yes, I do agree it was a terrible thing that hundreds of Britons were not able to vote last night. But do spare a thought for those Nigerians.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I believe, at least in my view, the question is not whether UK can be compared to ’3rd World Countries’ (Developing Countries in politically correct terms), but should be compared to countries which have had a Democratic voting system in place for less time than UK. I could be wrong. I come from Scandinavia, where things seem to work always a little better than expected, rather than the other way around…

Posted by VeritasVincit | Report as abusive

Comparing UK elections to Nigeria’s is pointless and,to be frank a little ridiculous.
The complaint was that many were not able to exercise their “right to vote”, however the rejected voters should not have turned up at 21.45 all expecting to be granted entry & a vote. The ‘constitution’ states that everyone has a right to vote within certain predetermined times – There HAS to be a cut off time !

Posted by RiskManager | Report as abusive

Things happen – any kind of things, but what is the most astonishing that there are no predefined procedures. Neither polling station staff nor electoral officials knew what would be a correct way of handling the problems.

Logically, if a station runs out of ballot papers, it should be closed and stayed open later for the same period. Similarly, people, who turned in before deadline should have been allowed to vote.

And, in my opinion, calling the latest voting as “extraordinarily well-run” is a sheer arrogance. Is NHS “extraordinarily well-run”? Similar level of incompetence.

Posted by Juliusz | Report as abusive