Many to stay away from polls

2011-04-12 10:32

Unhappy with service delivery and unable to find a political party that speaks to their views, many people have opted to stay away from the polls in the upcoming elections.

“I am personally not voting, because I feel the candidates are not worthy of my vote, I am losing hope in this country day after day, my daily expenses are rising higher than my annual increase, making me earn less every year,” said Dhiren Beni, a 27-year-old knowledge coordinator for T-Systems in Joburg.

“A few years back I would have voted ANC but now I am appalled by the people that run that political circus. Julius [Malema] is still the ANCYL president, and becoming quite a celebrity featuring on the MetroFM drive time slot earlier this month,” he said.

Engineering student, 23-year-old Melissa Young, said she was still deciding whether to vote.

“Service delivery is not good. But if you don’t vote for the ANC, who do you vote for. There isn’t a good alternative.”

Sipho Zulu, a 45-year-old assistant manager at a furniture store in Cape Town, said: “No, I’m not going to vote. The government is not doing much. I don’t want to vote for the ANC, but I don’t want to vote for any other party.”

Infighting and internal leadership battles in parties like Cope and the IFP have not gone down well with voters.

Corruption was another sore point.

Risk assurance auditor, Minesh Dwarika (26) said: “I am not voting as even if I do the political parties don’t meet the promises they make, they don’t live the values they set out and they spend the taxpayers’ money erratically and I feel they don’t exercise cost saving methods at all as there is way too much corruption evident.

“After looking at the financial statements of the various government departments I realised that the amount spent on entertainment is ridiculously high and this should be the lowest line item in my opinion.”

Mari Harris, a political analyst at Ipsos Markinor, said their polls had shown only 10% of the electorate indicated they would vote, but most of them were unsure about which party to vote for.

“There are usually about 10% of the electorate who indicate that they will vote, but they are unsure about which party they are going to support.”
She said some people indicated there was no one political party that represented their views.

In a November poll, Socio-Political Trends, 21% of eligible voters indicated they “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement that: “There is no political party that represents your views.”

18% neither agreed nor disagreed with that statement, while 3% didn’t know or refused to answer.

Harris said there were usually about 10% to 15% of people not registered to vote who were not interested in politics and elections.

She said this was a “growing trend” over the past 10 years.

“At first it was mainly white people who had this feeling of alienation, then it grew among coloureds and Indians as well and nowadays there are also growing numbers of black people who feel this way.”

A political researcher at the Institute for Democracy in SA, Justin Sylvester, said voters struggled to find alternative political homes in parties other than those they had traditionally supported.

“And because of levels of dissatisfaction voters then choose to stay at home.”

Sylvester said this was a concern as it impacted on results.

“In short, by choosing to stay at home registered voters proportionally increase the strength of those registered voters who do cast ballots,” he said.

He said an interesting pattern had emerged from previous elections.

Lower voter turnout seemed to have aided the ANC’s majorities in 1999 and 2004, whereas increased voter turnout aided the opposition DA in winning Western Cape and increasing its national share of support in 2009.

“Turnout can affect a party’s share of the support in an election.”

Harris attributed the uncertainty and apathy to mainly two things.

On the one hand political parties were continuously criticising other parties during their campaigns, providing little vision and inspiration for voters, and on the other hand there was non-delivery on election promises.

She said there had been “growing concerns” over the past two years about delivery on election promises.

Recent protests against service delivery showed citizens were unhappy.

Ipsos Markinor tested the government’s performance on 25 policy areas every six months.

“All the scores are down and the majority of them are below 50%.”

Last week, the Sowetan reported that labour federation Cosatu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi saying the ANC’s failure to provide basic services to the majority of its supporters could lead to many of them deciding not to vote.

“There is a real danger that in Port Elizabeth, where our people are sick and tired of a lack of services, people might just decide to stay away from voting and the Nelson Mandela Bay falls under the DA,” Vavi told a National Union of Metalworkers of SA conference in Joburg.

Cosatu is a key ally of the ruling ANC.

Sylvester said: “Given the deep challenges of governance, politics and service delivery at local government level, one would hope that turnout actually increases as voters exercise their choices in order to create a greater level of accountability in governance.”

Some disgruntled citizens, however, continued to vote for the ANC.

Harris said this was due to a combination of factors.

“The strongest probably being that, although they might criticise the ANC for non-delivery, there is still a very strong belief that this is the only party that can make a difference. ANC support remains very strong when we ask the question who they will vote for.”

She said South Africans had strong emotional bonds with political parties and voted with their hearts.

Harris and Sylvester said it was important for voters to hold political parties to account on the promises they made.

Sylvester said participation and active citizenship was needed instead of people withholding their votes.

“Voters in the next five years should keep the pressure up on councillors who are elected into office. In recent years this has manifested itself in violent protests, which is not helpful.”

Citizens could lodge complaints with civil society organisations, Chapter 9 institutions and provincial ministers for local government.

Harris encouraged voters to look for a political party with a message they could relate to and believe in.

“And if a party disappoints you, vote for someone else. You have a choice every five years – so it is not a permanent unchangeable thing. Every vote counts and can make a difference.”

She said local government elections should be taken seriously as it was the “coalface” – where government came closest to the people.

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