South African Elections
by Dr. Firoz Osman
Election manifestoes and party lists are being minutely scrutinised as the electorate debates the various options to elect a leadership that will determine their future over the next few years.
Fifteen years into our democracy, we have unfortunately joined the electoral shenanigans of other nations such as corruption and intimidation. This has become a common and widespread feature of the democratic process, together with a lack of focus on substance, minimal differing policy issues between the various parties, and an overemphasis superficial values and populism.
Parties vie for power to exploit the gullible electorate by covering their treacherous past deeds with pie-in-the-sky promises of poverty alleviation and jobs. Opportunism, nepotism and personal ambition are the guiding principles used to achieve, or maintain, power. It is imperative that the electorate see through the razzmatazz and glamour to select credible and responsible leaders accountable to the people.
Far too much money is being spent on building the image of the leader of the party, instead of appealing to the voters’ intellects and powers of rational decision. Creating an impressionable image of the party or the candidate’s personality simply to attract a greater number of votes undermines the entire democratic process. Perhaps that is why more than 50% of people in most democratic countries do not cast their vote.
Commenting on the American elections many years ago Arundhati Roy, the Booker-prize-winning writer and social activist, offered a good parallel to explain why it will make no difference who is elected President. “It’s not a real choice,” she said. “It’s an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, both are owned by Proctor & Gamble.”
Many parties profess to uphold the moral high ground to lead the country, yet their party lists belie their claims. Their actions betray their words of right and wrong, of good and bad. Meanwhile, voters search for an exemplary leadership committed to social justice. The party must have the ability to select upright, capable individuals to manage the affairs of the state who demonstrate a profound sense of fairness and devotion to the cause of the poor.
Citizens have frequently expressed their discontentment through violent demonstrations and the leadership must take heed that it is through its virtues and not through power and wealth that a just society is created. Citizens must judge the performance of a party upon delivery of several demands, which must include:
· A sincere effort to alleviate poverty and improve the lot of the downtrodden
· to curb opulence and ostentation among their elite
· reduce the gap between the 'have-a-lot' and the 'have-a-little'
· to check abuse of power and eradicate elite level corruption
· to investigate and punish misdemeanours and crime among the elite themselves
· to uphold the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary
· observe the canons of public accountability
· to consult their citizens on laws, policies and programmes meant for them
· To protect and preserve the freedom and responsibility of the citizen to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.
There is no doubt at all that narrow self-interest is one of the major reasons for the moral malaise of many political parties. If ostentation bolsters one's ego, why should one be modest or humble? If corruption benefits one's family, why should one be honest? If ruling with an iron hand is going to help perpetuate one's power, why should one observe public accountability and encourage popular participation?
The struggle for democracy is not only concerned with giving the right to all to elect a representative government, but more importantly, to elect a just government. It is critical for the electorate to transmit to the political leadership that righteous conduct is valued, and that a drop in ethical standards and morality will not be condoned.