Go out and vote

02 August 2016 | Story by Newsroom

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Dear colleagues,

As election candidates wind down in one of the most memorable election periods in the history of our democracy and the focus shifts towards speculation about the possible outcome of this election, we – the citizens – should go out in large numbers and vote for candidates of our choice on 3 August.

Not voting will serve no purpose other than harming our hard-earned democracy and freedoms in the end.

By exercising our right to vote, we are uniquely positioned, individually and collectively, to ensure that this election becomes a powerful force for political change and an ignition that sparks other processes that will improve South Africa's level of political freedom and rights.

Given the diverse views expressed in the election manifestos that have been presented for this election, we have yet another opportunity to use this election to strengthen accountability and political control, to give legitimacy to political power, to participate in processes that will lead to peaceful change in power, and to enhance political stability.

We would do well to remember that the right to vote and the right to stand for office are not the flipside of the same coin but two different rights that are rooted in citizenship. Therefore, what is expected of us is to take action in a manner that ensures that each vote translates into making human rights real.

Unlike other political rights that can effectively be exercised in a group – such as freedom of assembly and freedom of expression – the right to vote and to stand for election rest exclusively with individual eligible citizens. 

For that reason, my advice and appeal is that voters who have not made up their mind as to which candidates to vote for because some politicians in government have disappointed voters must view political parties as an important vehicle through which to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to vote, and not the beginning and end in these elections.

According to statistics released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), this is a record-breaking election. Over 6 000 domestic and international observers will observe voting and counting of ballot papers at voting stations across the country. There is a record number of parties contesting the elections – 204 – which is a whopping 68 percent increase from 2011. The IEC has also recorded an unprecedented number of 63 654 candidates, representing an 18 percent increase. Also important is the record number of independent candidates in this election – 855 – in comparison with the 754 we had in 2011. There will also be a record number of voting stations – 22 612. 

We must be encouraged by the fact that because every vote counts, even locally based political parties that secure the minimum votes required to get a municipal council seat will get their fair share of representation. This is so because the proportional representation electoral system ensures that votes belonging to political parties that fail to achieve the set electoral support threshold are combined in a basket and divided proportionally between small parties.

We must always be mindful of the fact that while political parties are the heart of politics in a representative democracy, they also have great potential to become political liabilities. Whether political parties contesting this election prove to be an asset or a liability over the next five years depends crucially, among other things, on the strength of electoral support we invest in them, as well as the context within which they will operate, their internal governance and how they respond to external political stimuli.

Our vote must pronounce our disapproval of the tendency for patronage politics in the management of political parties and government resources, as witnessed in the last five years. 

Our vote must be calculated to produce multi-party local municipalities whose function is to watch and control the government for the benefit of local communities, to throw the light on its acts and to compel a full exposition and justification of acts considered questionable.

Our vote must also be calculated to ensure that those politicians who abused our trust are voted out of office this time and in the next by-elections. 

Lastly, our vote must produce municipal councils that not only respect the opinions of the nation, but can challenge abuse of power through robust discussion. The members of the new municipal councils must be able to speak their mind, not just to like-minded audiences and tenderpreneurs, but also in the face of opponents often found in the elite in control of party caucuses.

This we can achieve by voting in large numbers in this election, and by also voting for independent candidates, in the interest of democracy.

Opinion Nkosikhulule Xhawulengweni Nyembezi, PhD candidate, Law.

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