By Godfrey Chitalu
In laughing at our democracy, a good friend of mine described the pre-election period as a democrisis. He is worried that despite high literacy levels, electoral illiteracy is rearing its ugly head again. He foresees a situation where boostele songs, vote buying, use of ill-gotten wealth, falsehoods, propaganda and half-baked manifestos will emerge triumphant at the ballot box. He lamented that most of us either care less or are ill prepared to make informed democratic decisions.
Do not misquote my thought pattern; taking part in free and fair elections is part of our democratic right. Every five years we are all psyched and fueled to appreciate elections. This psyching on all cylinders sometimes make no difference in enhancing democratic tenets. My concern hinge on how we neglect the vital aspect of unadulterated voter education. That our citizens rarely understand political processes to allow them make informed electoral decisions is an understatement.
How many days are reserved for educating our people on the nitty gritty of voting? Will polarization end if one sided partisan voter education is the order of the day? It is interesting to note that pure electoral illiteracy is being exacerbated by both ruling and opposition parties. I wonder what goes in the minds of the wider electorate when a handful of party officials select candidates at primary level. Haven’t we seen high caliber hopefuls including ministers tumbled by a non-descript constituency committee.
Electoral illiteracy involves the inability to question what your political party decides. If it says a ten-person committee will select candidates, yours is just to ululate! How many members of various political parties have questioned the endemic injustice of selection of candidates prior to a general election? Small wonder we have fights across the country due to vote buying at lower levels. How then can we expect that similar tendencies wont resurface at higher levels? It worries me that so far no political party has ever promoted real primary elections involving multitudes.
How can you know that you are an electoral illiterate? When you embrace exchange of gifts as a campaign tool, then you are in for it! Most candidates who offer gifts as inducement for votes target electoral illiterates. Despite the proliferations of gifts during elections such tendencies actually are akin to shutting the stable door when the horse has bolted. There is a difference between provision of goods and services through the normal governmental channels. I have seen in one constituency one road being graded by two opposing candidates. Were where they all along?
Electoral illiteracy also includes voting for your party regardless of who they field. Unquestionable party allegiance is bad for democracy. You need to leave room for error. There is no way your political party can be right all the time. Even when voting surely there are some candidates on the other side who might be better placed to assume leadership. My intention during the upcoming elections is to vote for quality regardless of party affiliations. I refuse to dehumanize people just because they belong to another party.
As a person who has been in church with two opposing members of parliament, my belief system has started tilting towards muted regionalism and zero partisanship. If you worked well and have a good track record, expect my vote. Increasing allegiance to party politics will not bring food on the table. Contrariwise it will just strain relationships. It is not a matter of the devil and the angel – we have both devils and angels embedded in either camps.
If by elections are a good yardstick, apathy has characterized most of them. Electoral illiterates shun elections with glee. They are the same people who cry foul when wrong people are elected. There is a correlation between electoral literacy and voter turnout. It is therefore high time that the people mandated to start voter education did their work. We do not want to continue complaining about unpopular victors.
The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.
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