People who did not vote in the SA elections: Apathetic or Principled?

I’m one of those who did not vote.

The election farce has happily come and gone; it means I don’t have to be constantly insulted by the politician’s outrageous lies for another five years at least. In the aftermath, I read in an on-line publication today, that those who did not vote in South Africa’s general elections yesterday, are apathetic, unpatriotic etcetera. One commentator in fact recommended that non-voters should have exercised their democratic rights and participated, and then made their displeasure towards the candidates known, by spoiling their votes. I will explain later why this is a really bad idea. If I had not made myself clear in a previous post, as to why I will not vote, and in fact did not vote, then let me reiterate and add further reasons for my perceived apathy.

I firmly maintain that my vote is akin to a precious commodity. In exchange for my vote (in a democratic political system), a political candidate should reciprocate by rendering a public service that is in the interests of all citizens, and is indeed necessary for the smooth functioning of that (democratic) system. It is therefore incumbent upon the candidate to earn that vote. In the current South African context, no politician has yet earned any votes, through repeated (from past elections) voilations of the process of reciprocation. To put it bluntly, South African politicians are either entirely self-serving (as is the case with the incumbent government), or serve narrow interest groups (such as the opposition parties who represent racial or other types of minorities). When I find a politician or political party that actually earns my vote, I will cast it gladly.

And so we come to that curious bunch of do-gooders who have this romanticised view of the world; who think it is noble to participate in the election process, but show your disapproval of the electoral candidates, by spoiling your vote. It might make for good reading in a political novel, but the reality is ultimately quite different. Do you actually think that the victors of an election will stop for ten seconds and ponder the fact that a thousand, or even tens of thousands of people spoilt their votes? From experience, these politicians are far too arrogant to even give one second of consideration to the fact that some, or many people did not vote. The number of votes lost, or not cast is inconsequential to any victorious politician; said politician is by this time, already too busy figuring out how to “redistribute” your taxes; in no small part to himself and his cronies.

Finally, I need to address those well-meaning members of the public, who have repeatedly castigated potential non-voters prior to the elections. These reprimands were mostly spread through e-mails, warning us not to complain about any objectionable elected officials, if we chose not to  participate in the election process (and supposedly **pause to laugh** ensure that a better candidate won). The purveyors of this idea, go on to state that by default, non-voters give up their right to complain or participate further in the democratic process. Another noble, if somewhat unenlightened idea. In truth, the fact that I surrender (even, if unwillingly) a large part of my earnings as taxes, and indeed contribute to the (mostly unjustified) salaries of the elected officials, gives me every right to participate in the democratic process to determine how the money is spent; and consequently allows me access to the vehicles for complaint. As an analogy consider that the employees in a company do not decide the management structure, but have the right to complain (and seek restitution) over unfair labour practices by any member of that structure.

In probably all organizations (a country can be viewed as a very large organization), where decisions are reached through a system of voting, there are abstentions; for reasons of strategy, ill-health or otherwise valid reason, even apathy. Consider that an abstention could also be just simply a matter of principle; something that is all too expediently sacrificed these days…

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3 thoughts on “People who did not vote in the SA elections: Apathetic or Principled?

  1. Hi Lenny

    Nice post. I’m a principled non-voter and Nopester (http://www.nope.org.za) myself.

    I agree with you regarding the futility of spoiling your ballot. There were well over 200 000 spoiled ballots in these elections (more than the number of legitimate votes several established political parties managed to attract) and in the media these were (with very minor exceptions) either ignored entirely or dismissed as mistakes.

    It turns out that the IEC has no way of distinguishing and recording an intentionally spoiled vote from one that was a genuine mistake. So even if you annotate your ballot with something along the lines of “I’m spoiling this ballot on purpose” you’ll not be distinguished from those who simply didn’t really know how to vote properly in the first place.

    I know that in the US there have been initiatives to try to get a “none of the above” option onto ballots, but I don’t think that’s become a reality anywhere as yet.

  2. Hi Andreas

    Thanks for that interesting bit of information concerning spoilt ballots. I’m glad to know that there are others like you, who won’t abrogate their principles.

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