At the core of democracy is the vote. This single act is how we, the voters, signal how we feel to the politicians and their parties.
It is a means of control. When we vote, we tell the nation which candidate we want and which policies or programmes are crucial.
Yet many of us do not vote. Based on the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) data, only a third of the eligible voters voted in the recent Local Government elections.
So why are our political leaders talking about victory? What do they know that the general public does not?
What does the uncast vote say? Given the results, the media believes the country is divided or locked in a partisan battle. But nobody is advancing proof that the non-voters would be split in the same manner as the voters.
In the absence of data, a lot of bluster passed as fact. Our political leaders should be soberly weighing the results and strategising how to encourage more people to vote.
The fascinating data point emerging from the elections is the further decline in voter participation. It may be worthwhile to explore possible theories as to the causes.
This exploration is valuable since there may likely be more distortion at the local government than at the general elections level. There is a higher participation rate at the national level, and more minority groups or interests will participate since there is the belief that the stakes are higher.
The risk of distortion in voting results is enhanced when the powers allocated to the local governing bodies are severely circumscribed. Should the residents not be able to connect closely voting and the quality of their daily lives, why should they go out to vote? If the local council cannot fix the potholes, why vote?
If the budgets are constrained by the central government and the local councillors are forced to do impossible trade-offs, why vote?
Presumably, this flaw had been observed and formed the thrust of the desire for local government reform. It is a pity that we never discussed how this might be shaped and what it would mean at the street level.
It is almost as though we are happy to have bad roads, no water and poor service for future electoral combat. We want to continue to blame the central government for things that should be handled at the village and community level.
Who is caring for the residents? At which level do we want to make decisions about infrastructure? Should some distant body decide which company can violate your rights? Is it that we do not wish to hold our councillors accountable?
Looking at the issues aired in the Local Government election campaign, we may have clues as to why the votes may have been lower in some areas.
Without more data, we cannot conclusively claim that a party lost votes to another. Incumbents may change their behaviour from previous elections when they consider the challenges raised and compare the competency of both contesting parties.
The supporters of the incumbent party may choose to withhold their votes because they do not believe they were well served. We cannot, therefore, claim that the ‘missing’ votes went to the challengers.
On the other hand, there may be voters predisposed to vote against the incumbent, and with the spotlight on their shortcomings, these voters will vote against them.
Voters will hold the incumbent party responsible for how they feel, even when that feeling is not directly tied to the performance at the local level.
This year was one of the years when there was hope for a larger turnout. The parties spent a lot of energy and money to attract voters. Why, then, did the voters not turn out?
It could be summed up as frustration. Both parties have stalwarts pushing them to change their ways of connecting with the public to no avail. We have activists who try assiduously to have us be more involved in selecting our leaders, and we turn a deaf ear.
A mass of citizens is turned off by the inane dialogue that passes for political fare. They wish that the politicians would leave us alone.
Will anything change if we vote in this election, or should we wait for the general election?
When candidates and parties do not listen to the public yet want their votes, something is horribly wrong. Why do they speak about things that do not matter to the voters? Are they tone-deaf, or do they not care what the public thinks?
This situation is made worse by the quality of the leaders and candidates being presented. Our political leaders and parties seek to arouse anger against their opponents.
The eye is not on governing, which requires a meeting of the minds at the Parliament or the Council level. They seek to use misleading rhetoric to highlight divisive topics.
Special interest groups come to the fore. The basest of the dishonourable men rise as the leaders. Why would those voters in the middle align themselves with such individuals?
Nothing said here should be used to validate not voting. The effort is to have those who desire to lead us to think about options to have a better country.
Failure to do so may lead us into more trouble, should an evil man arise and promise to eliminate the two parties.