Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that the 2023 presidential election is on course to be the tightest race in recent history. Forget the bluster from partisan supporters, no one knows for sure which way it’ll swing.
At The Candidates town hall series, which we’ve been covering, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, on November 19, 2022, said he’s not a spoiler in the presidential race.
To substantiate his point, he mentioned a report by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that disclosed that it was printing 187 million ballot papers — twice the number of 93.5 million eligible voters, as it anticipated that the election might go into a runoff.
With this background, we’ve decided to break down what a runoff election entails, and what it could mean for voters.
What is a runoff?
A runoff describes a voting system that selects a winner after two rounds of voting. It happens when no candidate is able to secure a simple majority, that is, greater than 50% of votes in the first round. The idea behind it is to ensure that whoever is elected president gets broad acceptance from across the country.
What laws guide the conduct of a runoff in Nigeria?
INEC is empowered by the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) to conduct runoff elections in Nigeria. Section 134 of the Nigerian Constitution explains the conditions for this to occur.
To be elected as president, “A candidate for an election to the office of President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election –
(a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election;
(b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election of at least two-thirds of all the states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.”
The summary of the above is that a candidate needs to get a simple majority of votes, and 25% of votes in 24 states to become president. When this doesn’t happen, we go into a runoff.
Who qualifies for a runoff?
Section 134, subsection 3 defines who qualifies as, “(a) the candidate who scored the highest number of votes at any election held in accordance with the said subsection (2) of this section; and
(b) one among the remaining candidates who has a majority of votes in the highest number of states, so however that where there are more than one candidate with majority of votes in the highest number of states, the candidate among them with the highest total of votes cast at the election shall be the second candidate for the election.”
The summary here is that two candidates will go into the runoff. One is the candidate with the highest number of votes in the first round. The other candidate is the person among the rest that wins the most states. If more than one candidate in this group has won an equal number of states, then the tiebreaker is the candidate who won more votes.
Could the 2023 election go into a runoff?
There’s a possibility that a runoff might happen given the respective strengths of the four leading candidates. Different election polls have shown that they all possess strong support bases. INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye, said printing extra ballots has been a tradition of the commission since 1999.
How soon after the main election can we expect a runoff?
The Electoral Act gives INEC a maximum of 21 days to conduct a runoff. The timing is not unusual. INEC has said it’s a logistical nightmare printing another 93.5 million ballots within three weeks, hence the proactive move.
What could it mean for voters?
If you’re unlucky and one of your faves doesn’t make it to the next round, you may find yourself having to vote for a “lesser of two evils”. This often means that the candidates who scale through will do some serious mobilisation and have to reach out to fringe voters to gain their support.
Overall, this is very good for democracy. It leads to robust coalitions and helps keep candidates on their toes. For Nigeria with a history of poor leadership, a runoff, even though expensive, might be a small price to pay for good governance.