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Not voting harms democracy

As election candidates conclude one of the most memorable election campaigns in the history of our democracy and the focus shifts towards speculation about possible outcome of this election, we – the citizens – will do well to go out in large numbers and vote for candidates of our choice on August 03.

Not voting will serve no purpose but harm our hard-earned democracy and freedoms in the end.

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

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

We will do well also in remembering that the right to vote and the right to stand for office are not the flipside of the same coin but two different rights 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, because of the prevailing political environment in which some politicians in government have disappointed voters, voters who have not made up their mind as to which candidates to vote for must correctly view political parties as an important vehicle to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to vote and not in and by themselves the beginning and an end in these elections.

After all, according to statistics released by the Electoral Commission, by all measures 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, at 204, which is a whopping 68% 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, at 855, in comparison with the 754 we had in 2011.

The IEC has registered a record number of voters for this election – 26,3 million. It received a record number of special vote applications, over 740,000 – which is three times more than that of 2011. It will open a record number of voting stations, at 22,612.

We must be encouraged by the fact that, because every vote counts, even local 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 those 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 a political liability. 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 mode of internal governance and how they respond to external political stimuli.

Our vote this time must effectively pronounce our disapproval of the tendency for patronage politics to takes centre stage in the management of political parties and government resources as witnessed in the last five years.

Our vote in this election 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 of publicity on its acts, to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which any one considers questionable.

The plurality of voices in the new municipalities must be firm enough to censure government acts if found condemnable.

Our vote must also be calculated to ensure that those politicians who composed the outgoing government and abused our trust, or those who fulfilled their offices duty it in a manner which conflicted with the deliberate sense of the nation, we must vote them out of office this time, and in the next by-elections.

Lastly, our vote must produce municipal councils in which not only the general opinion of the nation is respected, but that of every progressive section of it can produce itself in full light and challenge abuse of state power and public resources through robust discussion.

The new municipal councils must be a platform where every person in the country may count upon finding somebody voted into office in this election who speaks his or her mind as well or better than any voter could speak it themselves – not to like-minded audiences and tender entrepreneurs exclusively, but 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.

Nkosikhulule Xhawulengweni Nyembezi is the Board Chairperson of the Election Monitoring Network.

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