Dear undecided voter, don't take the easy way out

2019-05-06 19:00
IEC election voters
IEC tape around a voting station.

Make peace with the fact that no party is going to tick all the boxes for you, unless you start your own, writes Mandy Wiener.

This is not a preachy address, pontificating about how people died so that you could have the right to vote. Sure, that is absolutely critical but you know that already. In fact, that is probably one of the primary reasons that you feel so distressed that you don't know where to put your X on Wednesday.

It's a conversation I have been hearing in queues at the grocery store, at the bank, at the pharmacy, at the dinner table over the past few days and weeks. I have no doubt it's a familiar one to you too. Are you going to vote? But who for? They're all useless/corrupt/incompetent/insert expletive here. This morning, I heard one woman tell a stranger that she knew she had to go and vote, so she was thinking about spoiling her ballot rather than give her support to anyone. No one was deserving enough.

A vote is a valuable thing. It's a demonstration of trust and confidence. You're essentially asking someone to be your representative in making laws, expressing your interests, managing your environment and ensuring that you receive basic service delivery. You don't want to squander it and waste it on someone who is not going to get that job done, or even worse, is going to enrich themselves through corruption at your expense.

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The problem I am having and I'm sure this will resonate with you, is that I am looking for a perfect match. I'm seeking a party that I'm proud to give my vote to, that I will have extreme confidence in so that my valuable vote will not be wasted. Even though we are not compelled to make it public, I want to be able to live with my conscience so that I would not be ashamed to announce loud and proud who is representing me out there in the National Assembly.

I feel like each of the potential candidates that have been auditioning for my support, has some horrible blemish that I can't forgive. Yours may be different to mine but they are there, glaring and obvious.

The concern is that the undecided voter like you and me, who is politically homeless, will just decide not to vote on Wednesday. It's the easy way out. Voter apathy is a massive problem in the country and it's expected to get worse. In 2009, voter turnout was 77%. In 2014, it was 73%. It's likely to be lower this time around. Already we know that 10 million South Africans who are eligible to vote, didn't even bother to register. The problem is even bigger amongst youngsters with only 18.5% of first-time voters registering.

So, dear undecided voter. What are we going to do about this dilemma?

Firstly, we need to commit to actually making it to the voting station on Wednesday. I want to be an active citizen that is seen as a doer and not a complainer. I don't want to be a passive cynic that bitches and moans about Eskom and load shedding and potholes and corruption.

If you don't bother to get off the couch and walk to the polling station, you give up your right to expect others to act when you won't make the effort to. There is integrity in voting.

You will also be honouring those who did sacrifice in order to ensure that we all, regardless of race and gender, have the right to vote. We have to guard against anyone who challenges that and we can only do so in exercising that freedom.

Secondly, make peace with the fact that no party is going to tick all the boxes for you, unless you start your own. Accept that you are going to have to live with the faults and the stains, regardless of who you choose. (It's a bit like selecting a spouse, I suppose). It may also be helpful to remember that you are not choosing a 'forever' party. You are loaning your support to whomever you select for a five-year period. If they fail, you can choose to give it to another candidate next time around.

If you feel you just can't live with any of the options and it would be disingenuous in voting for any of them, there is an argument to be made for spoiling your ballot. At least you would have exercised and protected your right to vote. Those spoilt ballets will also be tallied and will send a message to the political establishment.

Just don't choose to do nothing. Don't be a couch cynic. Do something. Be an active citizen and get out there and show your patriotism with your countrymen on Wednesday. You'll feel better for it, even if you don't trust the politicians.

- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.

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