Direct Election and Indirect Election InfomediaNG

Direct Election and Indirect Election: Difference, Advantages, and Disadvantages

Last updated on August 11th, 2023 at 08:03 pm


What is a Direct Election?

A direct election is a system whereby voters directly cast their ballots to choose the person (or party) that will represent them in a general election i.e the the persons or political party that they desire to see elected.

What is an indirect election?

Also known as hierarchical voting, an indirect election is a system of voting whereby voters do not choose directly among candidates or parties for an office, but elect people who in turn choose candidates who they will like to see elected in a general election.

Direct election and indirect election are products of democracy whereby some people are elected to represent the interest of their people in a government.


An election

The process of selecting or balloting a few people – since everyone can not run the affair of a country or constituency – is known as an election.

There are several ways the process of electing a leader or representatives around the world where democracy is practised, especially when political parties hold primary elections.

It is a process. It begins with the political party. Elections are first held within the political party through the process called primaries.

What is Primary Election?

A primary election is balloting within political parties which allows party members to nominate candidates that will fly the flag of their party during a general election.

Aspiring candidates who wish to represent a party in elections are expected to obtain party nomination forms. As such, primary elections take different forms – direct elections and indirect elections.

Party primary is entirely an internal affair of a political party, but the activities within a party could deepen or mar democratic ideals.

If there is an awkward selection process during primaries, it could affect the representation of the generality of the people. Primaries are held in all democratic societies.

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Forms of Primary Election in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 24, 2022, makes provision for three types of primary election:

  1. Direct election
  2. Indirect election
  3. Consensus

Direct Primary:

This is a process whereby registered and qualified party members are allowed to vote for candidates that will represent the party in a general election.

In some cases, registered party members queue behind the person they want to represent their party in an election.

Direct primary has its cons and pros. But the advantages outweigh the challenges if it is practised in the right way.

Advantages of Direct Primary

1) Direct election is more democratic than any other type of election because party members have the opportunity to vote

2) It is the most credible way of producing credible candidates

3) It enriches freedom and inclusiveness. 

4) It reflects popular choice of party members

5) Direct primary election allows a greater chance for transparent electoral victory

6) It broadens participatory democracy

7) It restores the integrity of elections

8) Direct election also creates an egalitarian political society

9) It improves internal democracy within political parties because it is hard for moneybags to bribe all party members in the way they bribe delegates during the indirect primary.

10) It has better chances of reducing the incidence of parallel primaries

11) Another strong argument for the direct primary is that it limits internal party crises that could arise from the exclusion of candidates or manipulation of primary processes by a few

12) It creates equality of voters which means “every voter has a vote and the votes carry the same weight,” according to Leo Dare and Anthony Oyewole

13) It makes party members feel they are part of the process

14) Above all, direct election strengthens the institutions of democracy.

Nigeria as well as most democratic political systems use direct election in selecting representatives, especially in 2019 party primaries in the All Progress Congress (APC) where Maj Gen. Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the flagbearer of APC through a direct election.

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While the proponents of direct primaries have stronger points, the direct election comes with some challenges, which include:

1) It could be cumbersome to manage in an insecure environment

2) It expensive

3) It can be manipulated in a country where political parties do not have the database of their party members. A non-party member could be mobilised to support a specific candidate

4) It requires a huge presence of security in a country where political offices are seen as a “do or die affair”.

Indirect Election

Also known as the delegate system, an indirect election is a form of election in which the voters do not vote directly for their representatives, instead, the election takes two stages.

In the first stage, the voters select representatives (delegates) who will vote on their behalf for the final representatives.

The second stage takes place when the delegates vote on behalf of their party to elect the flag bearer of their party in a general election.

Basically, an indirect primary option allows members of a party to elect delegates who are usually leaders and members of the executives at the ward, local government area and state levels, to, in turn, elect the party’s candidate(s) at a congress or convention.

Nigeria witnessed an indirect election in the Second Republic when local government councillors voted on behalf of the masses to select members of the Constituent Assembly in 1977.


  1. It is less cumbersome
  2. It requires a limited resources
  3. The delegate system is more convenient


But the disadvantages of an indirect election are more than its merits, they are:

1) Indirect elections may change the final outcome may be different from the popular wish.

2) It favours money-bad politicians, especially in a country where core democratic principles are not entrenched.

3) It is prone to manipulation

4) It allows heavyweights within the party to the pocket the structure of the party

5) It gives room for godfatherism

6) It broadens favouritism

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It gives room for unpopular candidates to emerge


Consensus is a process whereby (powerful) party members decide on who represents a party in an election.

In consensus, there are no elections, party members only claim to consult and come up with a name of an aspirant they believe has the strength to win an election for the party.

Consensus is totally strange to democratic ideals because it suppresses the general wish of the majority of party members.

For instance, Nigeria’s Electoral Act Amendment Bill allows political parties to choose between direct, indirect and consensus. And it’s likely most of the political parties would opt for the consensus option.

Disadvantages of Consensus Option

1) It gives room for intimidation of aspiring party members.

2) It allows the highest bidder to emerge as flagbearers.

What is the best form of primary election?

Judging from the pron and cons highlighted above, a direct primary election is the best form of preliminary election whereby voters decide their party’s candidates.

In the United States – which Nigeria sees as a model of democracy – direct primary is the most popular of election in almost all the states.

However, it is important to note that the electoral system is being manipulated in some countries where democracy is young or when there is greed among leaders.


An election is a crucial ingredient of a democratic society. There can not be a democracy without a free, fair, and credible election.

President, governors, and lawmakers (local, state and federal levels) emerge through a process called primary election.

Primary elections can be direct or indirect.

Direct primary is a preliminary election whereby registered party members decide their party’s candidates.

In an indirect primary, registered party faithful elect delegates who choose the party’s candidates at a nominating convention.

That’s the difference direct election and indirect election


  1. Leo Dare and Anthony Oyewole (1987). “Textbook of Government for Senior Secondary Schools”. Onibonoje Press & Book Industries
  2. Tony Akowe (October 20, 2021). “Good, bad and ugly sides of direct primary”. Retrieved April 21, 2022

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