I have long lost interest in voting for some years now and I know that this frank statement will be deemed downright appalling considering that voting was once a privilege reserved for a select few. I know all too well how much sacrifice, abuse, deprivation and discrimination people were subjected to as they struggled to attain the right to vote. Therefore, I am in no way trying to discredit or trivialize what was sacrificed to build the present that we enjoy today but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the whole process is almost a complete charade.
It has been several months since I had this conversation with a work colleague of mine, about voting, and she was incensed at the fact that people were throwing away such a crucial right to determine their destiny when all it took was a trip to the ballot boxes. As she spoke to me in animated tones and fervent arguments, I listened patiently hoping that she would present something new and novel about the usefulness of the whole affair (which I had somehow forgotten in my bid to distance myself from the polls). Unfortunately, she just regurgitated what I already knew (and too often heard) about making a difference, ensuring that the right candidate won, voting for policies that would affect our futures etc. Though true, my observation of politicians in the past and the knowledge I gained through my brief studies in politics shed light on the following factors that are far too often neglected:
It is the majority’s vote that makes a difference and NOT that of individual voters. This is blatantly obvious but what people neglect to realise is that the majority may not necessarily be analytical or worried about probing the grey areas in proposed policies or even particularly bothered about the future implications of choosing certain candidates. What happens too often is that people make decisions based on the face value of promises from politicians and the extent to which their checklist of wants and needs can be purportedly met by drafted policies. Add to this a candidate that is aesthetically appealing as well as thoroughly witty and charming and that’s pretty much it – he/she has the vote. There is also the issue of people voting for a particular party because, like seasoned football fans, that’s what previous generations have always done. Therefore, the whole process becomes one of tradition rather than one that is constantly subjected to rigor and analysis. So imagine the few that actually see through all the fluff and rubbish but unfortunately can only contend with the rest through a single unitary vote? This is NOT to say that opinions haven’t been divided or that elections have always been won through landslide victories but when you come across some of the reasons propelling people to vote, you can’t help but be discouraged when you see how many others share similarly short-sighted views.
What Freedom of Choice?
Voting today is never really down to freedom of choice. In the Western World people’s minds are swayed by political propaganda, slander, fear-mongering and excellent PR campaigns. In other countries that are not as ‘democratic’, people are persuaded to vote through sustained but effective application of bribery, force, intimidation and/or brutality.
During electoral campaigns in the West, candidates of competing parties often look for ways to malign and sully the name of their competitors by unearthing as much scandal and controversy as possible. In this report in UK’s Daily Mirror (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/labour-accuses-david-cameron-dirty-5078300) there’s the quote:
“We don’t care what Labour do or say. We will continue our criticisms of Ed Miliband. It’s not about fighting dirty or clean. It’s all about winning the election. Nothing else matters.”
Then there’s the highly comical Youtube video that was made about the incumbent Prime Minister, David Cameron, during the run up to the last elections https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8iS8xQRpZo
Also, here is a video and article which speaks of America’s long tradition of ‘dirty politics’ stretching as far back as the time of their early forefathers http://www.cbsnews.com/news/nasty-campaign-ads-an-american-tradition/.
Currently, politics has taken on an even more skewed dimension where celebrity culture, sensationalism and theatrics are now mixed into one, with emphasis being on generating more publicity and media attention than creating sound policies and a respectable campaign. Donald Trump’s campaign provides the perfect example of the changing landscape of politics in America https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2DgwPG7mAA
When it comes to votes gained through intimidation, force, violence or bribery, you have a plethora of articles about this problem:
So whereas in the past, voting was not a privilege available to all, now it may very well be available to everyone but takes place either under duress, manipulation or with the help of underhanded tactics to undermine the competition.
Another reason why I do not vote is because politicians lie. This is partly the electorate’s fault because we insist on selecting candidates provided that they tell us what we want to hear. We loathe the truth. Nobody wants to be told that the government has to prioritise where its budget is allocated and nobody wants to suffer austerity measures or cuts to public services. Therefore, to even be considered, politicians are often times forced to make promises that they can’t keep. We only show ourselves tolerant of such harsh truths when the failings of the elected leader before is so abysmal and the lies, so blatant that anyone who represents change is a welcome sight. However, there are those politicians who lack scruples and will say and do anything to win a seat in parliament. To them, the election is a means to an end and there is no sense of altruism or service to others that is built into their psyche. Then again, we also have those well-meaning politicians that earnestly make promises, with every intention of keeping them. However, once in government and exposed to the bureaucratic processes and parliamentary quagmire of decision-making and policy approval, they are often forced to compromise in areas that were never up for discussion. This is the nature of politics.
Lack of Diversity
Is it just me or isn’t it obvious that there’s a general lack of diversity in parliament? Take a look at this article about the composition of the Canadian parliament for example: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/01/02/parliaments_lack_of_diversity_goes_beyond_race_gender_study.html
Whereas we’ve come a far way by including more women in government, those who are representative of the minorities in the population are very few and in between. See also this article about the lack of diversity in the UK government: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/datablog/2014/jul/31/parliament-failing-represent-uk-diversity.
Now one can argue that more diversity within parliament doesn’t guarantee that such candidates will be any more effective at defending the rights of minorities as their white counterparts. Furthermore, even though candidates may be from an ethnic background, that doesn’t automatically mean that they are Presidential or Prime Minister material. Another argument could also be made that the reason why there is such lack of diversity is because politics is not high on the list of careers for ethnic minorities. While these statements offer some food for thought, one can also posit that with the less than sterling track record of some leaders that have come from more affluent, respectable or privileged backgrounds, taking a chance on a leader belonging to a minority is a gamble that we could live with. Furthermore, who is to say that the mindset of parliament and the budding institutions for future leaders and parliamentarians (that feed into government) don’t suffer from entrenched institutional discrimination, thus inhibiting the progress of potential candidates from ethnic backgrounds? Understandably, this is all speculation and will require a whole article altogether to really delve into these statements. However, it is undeniable that the lack of diversity in parliament can lead to government policies being severely one-sided and easily tunnel-visioned.
So as I said before, I haven’t been compelled to vote in a long time. Whereas many people around the world still face the risk of violence when choosing political candidates, in the West all eligible adults have the right to vote without being forced. However, this lack of force has been brilliantly substituted with manipulation which has effectively clouded the judgement of many voters and virtually reduced the whole process to a popularity contest.
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