Professor Koter Talks Elections in Benin

Lindsay Wasserman, Maroon-News Staff

On Thursday, September 10, Assistant Professor of Political Science Dominika Koter led a Brown Bag discussion titled, “Costly Electoral Campaigns and the Changing Composition of Parliament in Benin.” This was the first lecture in a series of six Social Sciences Lecture Luncheons that will be held throughout the semester.  

Recently, Professor Koter completed a book manuscript detailing her experiences in Benin, a country in Africa, as a field researcher of the costs of electoral campaigns. In her lecture, she informed the audience about what she learned from this research.

Although it is an extremely impoverished country, Benin is one of the most successful cases of democratization in Africa. Competitive multiparty elections have been held in Benin since 1991. Throughout the past decade, the country has been experiencing patterns of increasing electoral campaign costs. As a result, wealthy candidates have an extreme advantage in winning elections. Koter explained that candidates who are employed as businessmen or customs officials are most likely to run successful campaigns because of their wealth.

“High costs of campaigning privilege professions at the expense of qualified, but poorer professions,” Koter said.

Furthermore, Professor Koter described that the increased cost of campaigning in recent years is due to a change in candidate expectations. In the minds of many citizens, a candidate is supposed to invest in the community, provide cash gifts and incentives to voters and coordinate and fund the logistics of the campaign. Unlike political campaigns in the United States, candidates in Benin travel door-to-door, visiting voters in an attempt to “buy their vote.” 

Candidates provide the equivalent of about ten US dollars in cash incentives to each house that they visit in hopes that the citizen will vote for them in return. Even with this effort made by politicians to influence the election, enforcement mechanisms are weak and secret ballot voting is conducive to citizens changing their votes. Koter explained that vote buying and clientelism, although worrisome, are central to political campaigns in Benin.

“The practice of giving out money is extremely problematic,” Koter said.

In addition, 80 percent of citizens never pay party membership dues. This contributes to the increasing cost of electoral campaigns and the necessity for candidates to rely on their own funds in order to run successful campaigns.

Benin citizens are incentivized to run for Parliament because, if elected, they will receive immunity from prosecution, a solid income, cars and lodging, as well as the ability to strengthen their own businesses.

Koter explained that diminished democratic accountability and the violation of democratic norms are two main consequences of the increasing costs of electoral campaigns.

Koter’s presentation provoked some questions and comments from the audience. Specifically, many members of the crowd were intrigued by the protection from persecution benefit received by Parliament members. Koter explained that this benefit is only valid while the politician is in power. This incentivizes members of Parliament to run for reelection.

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Anne Rios-Rojas will conduct the next lecture in this series on Thursday, September 24 at 12:15 p.m. in 108 Persson Hall. It is titled “The Racists are Others: Racial Denial and other e(Race)sures in the Schooling Experiences of Immigrant Youth in Spain.”