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Resetting our voting mindset

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The issue of term limits for Prime Ministers has had quite a bit of discussion in the region in recent times. Equally important for discussion is the idea of a fixed election date. We are currently in a situation, which is certainly not new, where little that is of a productive nature happens. There is stillness in the air, where everyone is waiting, waiting on the announcement of an election date that only the Prime Minister knows.{{more}} It is a time that is not ideal for investment, except where pushing through a deal becomes urgent, partly out of fear of facing wider scrutiny. In this time of wait and see, the country is in a sense held to ransom. While little productively is taking place, it becomes a time of handouts and voters expect and wait on this. A fixed election date will mean having to do some serious surgery with our inherited Westminster system. One of the issues is with the matter of votes of no-confidence that will not apply in a case of fixed election dates.

It has often been argued that this is the only time when the broader society is able to participate in the democracy that we claim to have. It doesn’t really work because the trafficking in vote grabbing takes centre stage. How many of us give serious thought to the issues involved before making a decision on how to vote? That choice might be influenced by the fact that parents and grandparents had been voting in a particular way. The circumstances that influenced their choices are hardly taken into account; moreover there are different political actors around and the general social, economic and political context will be completely different.

But there are issues that need to be factored into the equation. Are we better off than we were five years ago? Is the broader community better off? What does it mean to be better off? The fact that an individual, for instance, might now own a car is not an indication of being better off. That person now becomes burdened with monthly repayments and maintenance costs. The maintenance of a car might mean less money to be spent on food and on the education of children. Questions have to be asked about the goodies that some of us display. Are these a result of resources being sent from relatives abroad? Are we totally or to a large extent dependent on relatives abroad? Is this sustainable? Do we have permanent jobs, or are we merely temporary workers, or not workers at all? Are there opportunities that will allow us to use our skills and initiatives and be less dependent on government? What of the investment of parents in their children’s education? What are the prospects of them being able to add to the family purse? Are there opportunities for our children when they graduate from whatever institution they attended?

We should be able to look at the operation of the party in power over the last term and are therefore in a position to determine whether or not it is on the right track. On the side of the Opposition, we have to examine their plans and determine whether or not they are feasible and workable. One of the things we have hardly been doing is looking at the candidates’ track records. With what have they been involved before taking the political plunge? Have they made a success of it? Could their experience and skills be transferred to the area of governance at the national level? Is the Prime Minister ‘primus inter pares’, that is, first among equals, or does he have total control with little being done without his intervention? Is he a team leader? This applies equally to the Opposition. Is the leader of the Opposition a team leader, or is he one whose intervention is necessary before anything is done? What is the quality of the team?

In looking at the economic development of a country it is important that we look to see if there is space for people to improve and build themselves without waiting on government handouts. Are the communities involved in the process of national development or are the people seriously divided fighting for the crumbs that might fall from the table? We have, with all of this, to take into account the fact that we are part of a global village that presents us with many challenges. To what extent will the party of our choice be able to utilize whatever space is offered? We are obviously not totally dependent on outside forces. We can create space to chart our own development. With limited physical resources the effective use of our human resources is critical. But do we have the right people in the right places, or are people put into places primarily because of their party colour?

Our vote is sacred. Are we prepared to sell it to the highest bidder and prepared to bear the consequences of what happens after? The truth about selling our votes is that once the transaction is completed we have no hold on the buyer. An election is a serious matter, but we do not treat it so. Our worst sin is to see our leaders as our God or as God’s representative. Politicians are people like us. They come from us and are subjected to the idiosyncrasies, the weaknesses and strengths of all human beings. Are they ones that have become intoxicated by power and the desire to hold on to it for all it is worth? Do they respect us as fellow human beings, or attempt to subdue us with their power? Are we men or women with a sense of dignity and pride? Or are we up for sale?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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