Don’t vote! A democratic right?

2014-03-11 16:31

Following up on and in support of Karabo’s article… the notion that a person “must” vote is as absurd as the recent, repeated slogan by political leaders that citizens must take greater ownership in resolving our major challenges. What did we relinquish when we voted them into power? And, are there honestly any responsibilities left for the politician that will not be outsourced to the market and the consumer, or shunted back to the citizen when they feel helpless?

Perhaps at this point in celebrating our democracy, not voting is a form of healthy democratic resistance more potent than sheepishly checking a square box for a political party that is unable to cope with our major challenges. For one, major political parties twenty years later cannot put forward the kind of benevolent and charismatic leaders that can transcend myopic party interests to accomplish great things.

There are times when it is obvious to a critically-minded, reasonable person that to vote is wrong.  During the tricameral elections in April 1984, many “Coloureds” and “Indians” demonstrated their resistance to the apartheid government’s ‘democratic reforms’ by a low turn out (Only 1 in 5 voted). Black political consciousness was raised then. Similarly much needed broader civic consciousness and political astuteness can be raised now. The IEC would like us to believe that the low voter registration among the youth is simply related to an ineffective marketing campaign (Is it not ironic that many complex issues in South Africa are viewed simplistically using a market fundamentalism lens?). Having listened to some members of the youth and by following similar trends in more established democracies, I suspect these low numbers may be an indicator of youth resistance due to a general lack of trust in political party leaders.

It would indeed be hopeful if many “born frees” chose not to vote because they have transcended narrow racial/tribal politics and simply seek leaders they can trust. Meanwhile the high registration numbers among the older demographics may suggest – despite having similar trust issues – many here are chained to their racial/tribal ties, and are therefore clinging desperately to the illusory comfort of belonging to a political party, even though it provides them with only a symbolic or artificial sense of sovereignty. The things we do to make life seem bearable.

In the last twenty years despite progress in some key areas, have we not seen one elite minority group – like the Broederbond – being supplemented with that of another elite minority group – the ANC oligarch? Not surprisingly, we saw the ruling party – probably out of self-interest – adopt a conservative transformation vision when a bold vision was needed? Have we not witnessed them becoming aggressive, at times even undermining the democratic rights of citizens when facing a threat to their authority or the reputation of their leaders? So not voting may be an appropriate penalty for their inefficiency in government, the misuse of resources, the abuse of power, and their self-serving and dubious relationships with the mainly white business elite (downplayed in the mainstream, conservative media).

The German sociologist, Robert Michels, warned us more than 100 years ago that serious criticism of political leadership is viewed by key members as betrayal to the party itself. In his words, political parties are “impelled by the instinct of self-preservation”. He found somewhat pessimistically that democracies are a Utopian ideal that can result in a new elitist tyranny unless the groups outside of government prevented the party from “dominating” society. But outside groups in South Africa meant to represent the masses such as trade unions, are arguably also “corrupt, racket-ridden and dictatorial”. And the current opposition political parties simply do not excite the masses.

For Michels, part of the answer lies in strong charismatic leaders. In his words “persons endowed with extraordinary qualities, sometimes held to be justly ..far superior to the general level. By virtue of these qualities such persons are deemed capable of accomplishing great things, and even miraculous things”.

Now such a leader may excite and get many of our reluctant youth (and even a pessimist like me) to the polls.

Drawing somewhat loosely from the French Philosopher, Jean Baudrillard:

The rest of the voting population “even though they do not believe a single word they are told” will find enjoyment in the “spectacle” of voting. What weak revenge.

*"Don't vote!" in the title refers to the 1984 campaign call by the UDF to resist the tricameral apartheid elections.

** Visit the dedicated News24 page for all the latest updates regarding the upcoming elections.**

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