Election promises

2009-01-27 00:00

THE ANC launched its election campaign earlier this month with a rally attended by some 80 000 supporters, while the majority of the opposition parties unveiled their manifestoes this past weekend. It is now up to the voters to examine what the different parties offer — and what they don’t offer.

There are promises common to all of them. All undertake to address poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, education and health. What is not common is in regard to the Scorpions. The ANC has legislated for their demise but, curiously, that legislation has yet to be signed into law, either because of the independent-mindedness of the president or perhaps because the party is realising that the matter is an electoral albatross.

The opposition parties would retain — or reinstate — the elite crime-fighting unit. Opposition parties would also amend the electoral system to introduce direct voting for important officials such as the president, premiers and mayors and constituency-based members of Parliament. Such measures, however, would obviously diminish the powers of the party bosses in general and Luthuli House in particular, so this is something which does not feature in the governing party’s list of “things to do”.

While it is easy to make vague, general promises about “fighting crime” or “reducing unemployment”, last year’s election in the United States suggested the value of specific undertakings which are speedily implemented. The executive orders already signed by new U.S. President Barack Obama to ban torture and close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre within a year, for instance, already give his administration a credibility lacked by its predecessor.

The Democratic Alliance makes a strong case that the election should be open to all South Africans, whether they are in the country or not. After all, if prisoners have the vote then surely individuals such as students studying abroad or young people doing a so-called gap year are no less worthy of the franchise. In 1994 South Africans abroad were able to vote, presumably to cater for those exiles who had not yet returned. Surely those out of the country today are no less worthy, although some will be making new lives elsewhere and won’t necessarily be returning to South Africa.

Lampposts around the country are already beginning to be decorated with the visages of political leaders. But a party should be more than its leader and all those who have the vote should exercise it, responsibly, on the basis of what a party actually stands for.

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