9 Main Functions of Election in a State


9 Main  Functions of Election in a State

Even from the definitions and characteristics given in the past article, it is quite obvious that elections play a number of interrelated roles in the political systems. We shall discuss some of these roles in this post, doing so under the assumption that a political system is a democratic political system.

Table of Content

You should be able to do the following at the end of this post:

1.   Have an adequate insight into the meaning of elections

2.   Understand the various functions of election in a political system.

3.   Appreciate why democratic systems work with fewer contradictions compared to non-democratic ones.


Definitions of Elections

Although elections are fundamental and very common in modern political discourse and there is hardly any dispute about their meaning, they have, like many other social science concepts, been discussed from several perspectives. In what follows we consider some of the definitions

A good one to begin with is the definition by R. Dowse and J. Hughes (1972) who assert that “Elections are one type of social mechanism, amongst others, for aggregating preferences of a particular kind. An election is, therefore, a procedure recognized by the rules of an organization, be it a state, a club, a voluntary organization or whatever, where all, or some, of the members choose a smaller number of persons to hold an office, or offices, of authority within that organization’'.

By analysis, this definition assumes that every political organization is democratic, and goes through the mechanism of elections in arriving at the smaller number of leaders that hold her offices. It is quite easy to describe this definition as impressionistic and hastily generalizing, considering the fact that it was given in 1972 when only about forty two percent of world’s nations were democratic and produced their leaders through elections.

Ball, A. (1977) can be accused of similar thing based on his definition that “elections are the means by which the people choose and exercise some degree of control over their representatives”. This simply suggests that wherever people are chosen to lead other people, the mechanism used is election.

Functions of Elections

1. Political Recruitment

Elections provide people of a political community with the opportunity to vote and be voted for in the process of choosing representatives in government. This process is systematized, and it provides, at least in theory, platform for fair participation of many people. Perhaps without elections, only one family or clique will dominate political offices in a political community.

2. Peaceful Transfer of Power

This systematization of recruitment process in elections is open and competitive, and therefore promises to eliminate unwarranted grudges and agitation. This means that elections provide the basis for the orderly and peaceful transfer of power in a political system. It facilitates crisis free political succession if the rules guiding it are followed.

3. Interest Articulation

During elections people are able to articulate their political interest either as individual candidates where allowed by the constitution, or as representative of a political party. Interest articulation is a very vital aspect of the workings of a political system.

4. Interest Aggregation

As political interests and preferences differ in politics, elections help to aggregate them in political communities. It is through elections that the views and opinions of people are organized, translated and consolidated into definitive electoral choices and mandates that will eventually produce leaders and representatives at different levels.

5. Enhancement of Political Equality.

Elections are very good means of are a means of bringing together the rich and the poor before the ballot box, making them equal at least for that moment, in their duties of politics. But for a mechanism like elections, the poor may never have any opportunity to mix up with the rich at all, especially in highly stratified societies.

6. Citizens’ Control of Government

Major role that elections play is provide means and mechanisms through which the people who are governed can influence the ways those who govern them conduct themselves. It is one sure way among “violence, in the form of riots and political assassination, and the exercise of pressure groups influence" through which, as Dowse and Hughes (1972) puts is, “the governors are controlled”.

7. Sense of Political Community

Elections help to integrate people into a strong sense of community spirit through the interaction it provides. This can assist a people in ameliorating contradictions such as ethnicity, religious dichotomy and indigene settler rivalry as we have in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

8. Extra Party Political Participation

Elections often provide the opportunity for people outside political parties to participate in the political system, while enabling the government to lay claim to some degree of popular support or legitimacy. This is particularly so in one-party states where competition for elective offices is dominated and even controlled by the only political party, and where the people merely support candidates chosen, or reject him or her if they like. They alone do not have direct choice.

9. Political Communication

Conduct of elections also ensures political communication between the citizens and those who govern them. People of a country, during electioneering campaigns have ample opportunities to ask their leaders how they have governed them over years. Without this kind of opportunity, governance will be esoteric and clandestine, and democracy will be reduced to conspiracy.

9 Main  Functions of Election

Main Characteristics of Elections

It is quite important for the behavioral scientist to clarify that to the extent that there are many forms of political system, ranging from monarchy, to totalitarianism, election is not, and cannot be the only way of choosing political leaders. The work however, is made easier as it limits the scope of elections to government at the level of the state.

We shall discuss the circumstances of election in government in the following part.

1. Electoral System: Elections often hold under clearly defined electoral system.

2. Suffrage: The electorate does not generally include the entire population; for example, many countries prohibit those judged mentally incompetent from voting, and all jurisdictions require a minimum age for voting. While in Nigeria the voting age is 18, in other countries it is sixteen.

2. Used in Democracy: Because democracy is often regarded as government of the people by the people and for the people, election is often the main mechanism used to endure that leadership is arrived at based on the wish of the people. Under democracy, election often means majority, mostly in number and sometimes in agreed forms of representation. In democratic systems, elections are based on certain electoral systems that are products of the evolution and history of the society. In the electoral system voting pattern, vote counting and winner declaration are the main issue. While we can have major electoral systems as proportional and majoritarian, other ones include party-list proportional representation, additional member system, First Past the Post (otherwise called relative majority) and absolute majority.

4. Used in Constitutional Monarchy: Elections are also used in constitutional monarchies where leadership is not arrived at through voting, but heredity, but, at the same time, operations of leaders are subjected to certain constitutional provisions. Elections in this type of political arrangement may not therefore necessarily follow any of the identified electoral systems

5. Periodicity: Elections come periodically. While in certain countries they are held every four years as in the United States and Nigeria, other countries use five or six years. Nigeria at present is proposing six years single term for political office holders. Whatever it is, the period of elections is often also contained in a government’s constitution.

Conclusion on Functions of Election

 Elections play all sorts of roles in development of a people and their nation. People are developed by means of interaction within themselves and their leaders, and as a result of this, there is likely to be strong national bond that may translate to political and even economic development of the system.

Elections as a means by which representatives are chosen to perform specified tasks by, and on behalf of a wider body of persons has some functions in the political society of man. These functions include intra people development and people-government relation as detailed in the above highlights.

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