Kaieteur News – During the contest for the election of the Leader of the People’s National Congress/Reform which took place in 2011, a shot rang out. In the ensuing melee, there is suspicion that uncast ballots were stuffed into the ballot box, in favour of one candidate.
Quite a few persons felt that the eventual results of that election were fraudulent because of this incident. The race turned out to be close but there was no legal challenge to the outcome because this was essentially an internal election of a private group and, under the laws of the country, did not constitute a crime against society.
Election rigging by election officials, during a national election, however, is a different kettle of fish. Such fraud constitutes a crime against society and should therefore be classified as a high crime equivalent to treason, sedition, mutiny and terrorism.
Election rigging does not target any specific individual; it targets the entirety of society. Since it involves a violation of the public trust by individuals who assume responsibilities not held by common citizens, it represents not just an ordinary crime but a high crime.
Generally, crimes can be classified into three types – crimes against the person, crimes against property and crimes against society. Crimes against the person include assault, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and rape. Crime against property includes arson, burglary, vandalism, bribery and embezzlement. Among the offences considered as crime against society are drug trafficking, illegal possession of weapons, prostitution and perjury.
There are also crimes committed against the state which are sometimes lumped as crimes against the whole of society. Crime against the state can be considered crimes of political nature such as sedition, treason, unlawful attempts to seize political power, mutiny, insurrections and rebellions.
Electoral fraud may, depending on whether it is grand conspiracy and depending on its scale and intent, be considered as a crime against society – the whole of society. It is for this reason that election rigging should be made into an indictable offence punishable by execution. But since the death penalty is now frowned upon and is opposed by human rights organizations, elections rigging at the minimum should carry the penalty of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Election fraud can also amount to a crime against the state. If election fraud is intended to foist an illegitimate regime upon the state, then it constitutes a high crime. If it intended to distort the popular will, it also constitutes a high crime. In this regard, one has to consider the scale, degree of the fraud and whether it was an isolated or part of a grander conspiracy to undermine the popular will and to produce and outcome which is at odds to that will.
Election fraud committed, in the course of general and regional elections, is different from election fraud committed in relation, for example, during a contest for the election of a leader of a political party. Election fraud in a general election attempts to corrupt the popular will; it is a crime against the state and the entirety of society.
The popular will is the basis of state sovereignty. Election rigging therefore is not a crime against society but against the state itself. This is what equates it with the offences of treason, sedition and mutiny.
Election rigging also violates the civil rights of subjects. Citizens have a right to freely elect a government of their choice. Election fraud corrupts this right and may even thwart this right. It should therefore be considered as civil offense, rather than a purely criminal act.
There is a lot of gaffe around about constitutional and electoral reform. No practical model is being proposed because those who are dabbling in the subject can offer none. Those calling for constitutional reform without any workable model of proposals are simply farting in the wind.
In such circumstances, it is advisable to reduce one’s ambitions and to seek lower common denominators. A good place to begin is with electoral reforms, not by tampering with the existing system but by strengthening the laws against electoral fraud.
Electoral fraud aimed at the deliberate misrepresentation or perversion of the popular will should be made a high crime against the society. It should be made an indictable offense punishable by public execution or life imprisonment.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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