voter apathy

Voter apathy undermines the spirit of democracy.

Voter apathy is when the citizens do not care about what becomes of or results from the election. Voter apathy is the reason for citizens’ refusal to register to vote and for low voter turnout on the day of the election.

It is common to hear talk amongst friends on how they won’t vote because they vote does not count. They cite vote rigging as the reason why they don’t want to vote. They are quick to rubbish encouragement from politicians that citizens should register so that they are able to vote when the day comes. They say politicians are simply looking out for themselves, that they are all the same – corrupt and self-aggrandizing, and they would rather not waste their time or their vote.

The ultimate manifestation of voter apathy is very low voter turnout. This then means that the winner in an election where there was low voter turnout celebrates a political win with a minority vote, something that is not in the spirit of democracy since democracy is about the majority rule

While a winner in such high voter apathy political elections can celebrate having won a political election, it is clear that such a winner wins with a minority vote. Such a vote doesn’t give a winner confidence that one is a popular political representative in a given area. Such a situation threatens democracy dispensation as democracy promotes majority rule.

And because most elected political leaders win with a minority vote, such leaders feel reluctant to mobilize majority citizens in the area who might not have voted for him or her. As a result, such political leaders fail to organize good governance or community development related meetings in local communities as most of the residents might not be coming to such meetings as they feel that the political representative concerned is not a leader of their choice; and is not popular in the area.

A situation where the winner of the political seat (by minority vote) spends more time justifying that he is rightfully elected arises. Yet, this is not what a political leader should do. They should be champions of development for their community. Voter apathy eventually retards community development, which in turn negatively affects national development.

If political leaders performed to the expectations of the electorate, there is a high chance that voter apathy levels would be lower. For example, in Kenya, after 53 years of political independence, out of about 15,160,800 people who are in employment, only 2,601,200 are reported to be in formal employment; and about 12,599,600million people are reported to be earning their living in informal sector. This means that the majority of the population is engaged in work which is not skills-based. This therefore means that the largest part of the population is living in poverty. (Statistics are from Kenya National Bureau of Standards Economic Report 2016)

Have political representatives disappointed the electorate? Could it be the reason why there is high voter apathy? Are the people frustrated because of politicians’ dismal performance?

And in contrast with the situation of the electorate, it is the political class who are richest in the country. It does not matter that they were well off or not well off before the election. After 5 years of holding political office, a politician is way richer than they were before. They live in the most affluent parts of any city/town, they drive the most expensive vehicles, they wine and dine at the most expensive restaurants, and in the midst of economic upheaval, they don’t feel the pinch. To make matters worse, they are often implicated in corruption scandals. This is another cause of voter apathy.

Undoubtedly, high voter apathy is a way for the citizens to say, “We don’t benefit from your political representation, and therefore, we are not interested in who represents us”. It is a vote of no confidence. When the electorate feel that there is little or nothing they gain from spending their time to participate in the electoral process voting for someone whose ambition is to aggrandize oneself, one who is only looking to be richer while the common man becomes poorer and poorer, then high voter apathy is inevitable.

And it is common knowledge that elected political leaders rarely go back to their constituents to consult with them. This leaves the political class unaware of what social challenges afflict their community. How then can the local or national government tackle such issues when their representatives do not know these issues? The end result is poverty.

Currently, the country is facing a health crisis. It is undoubted that health services in the country are not only inadequate but they are not of high quality. The most affected are the middle class and the lower classes. The political class may not even be aware that the health sector is not doing well because they do not seek treatment in the country, even for a simple case of neck pain.  As such, citizens feel marginalized by the government, and they eventually feel unjustified to participate in the election process.

Solutions:

The duty to participate in the election process should be made compulsory. Whereas this poses challenges of enforcement, it should not just be a right to participate in the electoral process; it should be an express civic duty with which every citizen is bound.

However, before participation in the election process is made compulsory, the government should have the moral authority to make such a law. Errant politicians should also be punished by law, and corruption should be prosecuted.

The government should continue to facilitate the working of a devolved government. Civil servants at county levels should be empowered to deliver high quality of public service. Hospital, schools, tax systems, public transport, local markets should all be adequately functional. When the electorate benefits from socio-economic services, they feel that they are part of the government and will not hesitate to participate in the election process.

Politicians who aspire to represent the people should endeavor to impress voters, not by appealing to their tribal inclinations, but by properly articulating social issues, presenting options – and taking steps to actualize them, meant to facilitate job creation, alleviating poverty, and improving on the people’s living standards. More so, political candidates should shun immorality – this constant implication in corruption scandals and cultivation of hate is not good for politics. Actually, where some citizens feel that the caliber of a political candidate is wanting, they just do not vote.

Citizens must also be assured of peace, despite the result of the election. Following the 2007 general election, the country was rocked by post-election violence which was akin to tribal wars. This must never happen again. Kenyans are peace loving people and they must not be made to refrain from participating in the electoral process in fear of what might happen soon after.

Voter registration should be easy and convenient. The requirement that people should vote from where they registered, usually their home towns, is rather discouraging. People often move from place to place looking for jobs, or in compliance with work transfers, because of marriage, education and in general pursuit of happiness. Asking votes to go back and vote from where they registered may be an expense which the voter may not be willing to bear – especially when poverty is biting, just so that they participate in the election process.

BY SAMALI BITALA

This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 2, Issue 3 of February 17th 2017

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