Speakership: Issues with open ballot system

Amidst calls for the adoption of open ballot system in the election of presiding officers of the 9th National Assembly, two Lawmakers say the lower chamber’s laid down rules could not be disregarded. Tope Musowo writes

Open balloting system

Simply put it means adopting a voting system whereby the position of every member on who he or she wants to vote is open. It differs from the secret balloting that allows an individual to defy the party or even, compromise or reneged on a promise to go along with certain decision or even go against it while putting up a bold face.

9th House and open balloting

Since the completion of the general elections and the emergence of elected National Assembly lawmakers whose inauguration has been scheduled for June 9, there have been clamour by some interest groups for the members to adopting the open balloting voting pattern. 

The protagonists are, according to some watchers of the political dynamics in the country, largely drawn from those who want to enforce compliance with the decision of the APC national leadership that endorsed certain individuals and fear that without threatening use of the big stick its directive would be defied.

Even then, some civil society organisations (CSOs) were among many proponents of the adoption of open ballot voting for the leadership of the 9th national assembly.

Similar situation played out in 2015 when a group of lawmakers opted to go against the wish of the party by adopting an opposing approach and eventually elected persons neither recommended nor endorsed by the ruling party.

Why opposed

According to Representatives Rimamnde Shawulu (PDP-Taraba) and Kehinde Agboola (PDP-Ekiti) open balloting is yet another external imposition on the independence of the legislature which should decide and not forced to adopt any voting pattern.

Not surprising, according to Shawulu any attempt to change the House of Representatives’ Standing Orders in the 9th assembly election without following the due process will be an aberration to the practice.

The lawmaker, who got re-elected in the Febraury 23 National Assembly polls, said promoters of open ballot election were not well informed.

“Let them come from outside and amend the rules now. President Muhammadu Buhari said he could not assent to the Electoral Act because it was too close to the 2019 general elections.

“Now, we have some weeks to the election and you want to amend how leadership is elected. That is double standard; it doesn’t make sense,’’ Shawulu said.

The lawmaker, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Army, however, said the rules would have to be amended at the lower chamber before anyone could talk about open ballot.

“The rules are already set; any member, who wants the rules amended, can bring the motion to the floor of the house. And if it is passed, it becomes law but now, the rules of the house have been there since 2011.

“The same rules that led to the emergence of Aminu Tambuwal are the same rules that led to the emergence of Yakubu Dogara.

“So, there has been no reason to change it, but if anyone thinks it should be changed, he can bring the proposed amendment,’’ said the lawmaker representing Takum/Sons/Ussa/Special Area federal constituency.

Secret ballot needs amendment?

He pointed out that the rule, which was clearly written out, “is about secret ballot.’’

Corroborating Shawulu’s remark, Agboola said adopting open ballot “will amount to shifting a goal post at the middle of a football match.’’

“We have never voted in the house on open ballot. So we will not take that; they can’t dictate to us.

“Unfortunately, some of the new members too do not even know how it works.

“When we were coming in, the standing order had already been produced for the 8th National Assembly.

“We have produced the one they will use. Anytime it is produced, there is no tension; so it is not bias. So, you cannot just change the rules because you want a particular candidate at all cost.

“If you are popular why are you afraid? Why didn’t they opt for Option A4 for the 2019 election?

“That means that you want to victimise the members; it means you want to impose a candidate on us. It cannot work,’’ he said.

Order 3 remains substantive

According to the lawmaker who also got re-elected, under the Order 3 Rule F (1) of the standing order of the house, it reads: when two or more members-elect are nominated and seconded as speaker, the election shall be conducted as follows: one, by electronic voting; or two, voting by secret ballot which shall be conducted by the Clark and pebble.

“You will see the list of members-elect of the house who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast their vote with the proposer and seconder as tellers,’’ he added.

He said the tellers were the people that would be at the venue as agents to take attendance of members, and give them ballot papers to cast their votes.

“So, you cannot now change it because you are backing a particular candidate. It is not possible,’’ he insisted.

Explaining further, Agboola said if the number of contestants were more than two people, “and nobody is stepping down, the election will be conducted until the contestants are reduced to two so that the winner will emerge by 51 per cent.’’

He said the election was not won by simple majority where the number of contestants was more than two people.

According to him, all the aspirants are currently engaging in behind-the-door discussions why one will have to step down for another considering regional, gender and religious factors.

Agboola, who represents Ikole/Oye federal constituency, stated that “the order paper of the house incidentally takes effect from the day of the inauguration.

“And on the first day of the parliament, the order 2 stipulates people that can vote.

“When it is time for the election of the presiding officers, it is stated there that before any member-elect can take an oath, he will first of all vote after the accreditation,’’ he said.

According to him, the Clark will first read out the proclamation letter from President Buhari for the inauguration of the 9th assembly.

“Everybody will sit down with his certificate of return. When everything has been certified, members-elect will be arranged in alphabetical order of states.

“And after the roll call, before the swearing-in, the Clark will preside over the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker.

“It is after you have finished with the election, before members-elect can be sworn in. So, if you have not been sworn in, you cannot even talk because no other motion shall be taken except after this,’’ he explained.

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