The F-word: The voted-for lord it over the voters

2013-03-10 10:01

The passing of the bill to legalise e-tolling and the recent drama of revolving mayors in the Tlokwe Local Municipality, North West, have turned voters into spectators as decisions affecting their everyday lives are made.

Those voted into office behaved as if they, not the voters, were the most important part of a democratic system.

There is no doubt that the Transport Laws and Related Matters Bill, which will legalise e-tolling of Gauteng freeways, is unpopular.

Not a single public-hearing meeting supported it, yet it is going to be law.

With regards to Tlokwe, it was intra-ANC scheming and intrigue at play.

Unlike with the e-toll processes, at least the voted for did not subject the voters to the pantomime of public participation when they knew that they would do as they pleased anyway.

It was not supposed to be that way.

We are supposed to be a democracy where decisions are made by popular will of the voters.

Voters are entitled to be wrong, even stupid in their choices, but it is still their choice and they must live with or learn from the consequences.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s argument in Business Day this week that voters vote for parties and not individuals and, therefore, it is the party and not individuals that are given a mandate, is an act of sophistry and intellectual dishonesty.

In a democracy, the voted-for are mandated to do what the voters believe is in their best interest.

They vote for that party in the belief and hope that it will do exactly that.

Parties are faithful to the mandate to the extent that they act in accordance with the wishes of those who voted for them.

They are not there to think on their behalf.

A proportional representation system was not meant to give carte blanche to the voted-for.

The e-toll bill and Tlokwe incidents forgot that democracy is in essence about the adults who vote and not the leaders who assume they know what is good for all of us.

That is called paternalism.

There is a reason only people of a certain age are allowed to vote.

Adults can choose whether to vote for a George W Bush or a Hugo Chávez, drink alcohol, watch pornography or do whatever might be deemed personal destructive behaviour.

Being assumed that you are smart enough to know what you want, and to live with the consequences of your bad decisions, is life’s equivalent of giving you a gold-plated watch for long service at work.

It may very well be that Tlokwe had a bad mayor who needed to be removed.

But making the voters in that municipality irrelevant in the discussion to remove, replace and then return a mayor to office, demonstrates the flaws in this system and makes it difficult to reconcile with democracy.

This is not even about the DA or the ANC.

It is about substantive rather than theoretic democracy.

If the DA – which with Cope and lately Agang SA champion election system reform – was sincere about how such a system marginalises voters, it could have opted not to benefit from what it describes as an undemocratic processes.

By inaugurating Annette Combrink as mayor to replace Maphetle Maphetle, the victim of ANC factionalism, when the voters had mandated the ANC to lead the municipality, the DA acted no differently to its forebears who decried apartheid but legitimised it by partaking in whites-only elections and seating in parliaments whose very being was the very manifestation of white supremacist ideology.

They enjoyed the fruits of the tree they were otherwise happy to pee on.

Democracy, like justice, must not only exist on paper, but must be manifestly seen to be true for the voters.

The proportional representation system was clearly a well-meant exercise to allow for even the smallest parties to have a voice in the various legislatures.

At the rate things have gone and admittedly as an unintended consequence, it serves the voted-for and marginalises the voters.

That cannot be democracy.

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