Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Not voting is not an option

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2016 | 2:00 AM

The following article is submitted by the Public Theology Forum, an ecumenical group of theologians and ministers of religion:

Last week, we were presented with some disturbing statistics - about 50 per cent of electors are planning not to vote. Furthermore, of those planning not to vote, three per cent were willing to sell their vote! This is a troubling situation that is well expressed by a Kenyan religious sister living in Jamaica, who asked, "What are we doing to ourselves?"

What we are doing is giving in to cynicism, suspicion, disappointment, frustration, indifference. What we are doing is giving in to self-preoccupation, leading to less interest in the political process and its concerns. Participation in the electoral processes and related matters is, therefore, considered a waste of time. All of this, of course, is rooted in the negative experiences with our political leaders and the political process.

What we are doing is concluding that the political parties are so similar, there is no distinct basis for preference, so it doesn't matter which party wins the election. So, there is no need for us to take part in the electoral process. We can make better use of our time than getting involved.

What we are doing is to profess a religious outlook that supposedly rationalises our lack of interest, as far as the political processes are concerned. We consider the current times to be the biblically predicted 'end times'. Disturbing matters such as the breakdown of good order, hunger and want, pain, and suffering of one kind or another are seen as beyond possible correction. They are merely 'signs of the times' indicating the imminent end of all things, making way for the divinely promised new order.

The question is: Are these and any other similar reasons offered for non-participation in the electoral process truly warranted, justifiable, exemplary or commendable?

From the Christian point of view represented here, they are not. From this point of view, the principles of responsible citizenship, commitment to the common good, the practice of true neighbourliness and the discharge of faithful stewardship, living in community, along with a just concern for the future generation, taken together in an integrated manner, go against non-participation in the electoral process or false participation through the sale of votes.

 

BEAR IN MIND ...

In light of this, there are certain things that are worth bearing in mind:

1 The right and freedom to participate in the electoral process we now enjoy were ensured and entrusted at great and painful cost and sacrifice by our foreparents. For such right and freedom to be treated with scant regard and abandoned, accordingly, is an act of grave ingratitude, dishonour and disrespect, which is most unworthy, to say the least. Furthermore, unlike what our foreparents handed down to us, what we stand to pass on to future generations, in relation to the right and freedom of participation in the electoral process, are cynicism, indifference and the claim of irrelevance. This is both unkind and unfair. Better stewardship is owed to those yet to come.

2 To surrender or abandon the freedom and the right to participate in the electoral political process cannot reasonably be seen as an effective way of making a meaningful contribution to the right and proper state of the community and society. It undermines our capacity to make any such contribution in any other area of the society, which itself is subject to the governance of those put in place by a process discredited and devalued by our refusal to participate in it. The self-defeating attempt to do any such thing will sooner or later only worsen our cynicism and cause greater personal frustration. We will end up being unhappy members of the society who do not make really good neighbours. Neighbourliness is a critical component of a well-ordered society, careful of human well-being and welfare, with special reference to those who are weak and vulnerable.

3Wittingly or unwittingly, moral cowardice and associated moral compromise are invariably brought into the picture when we refuse to participate in the election process. Where we are unwilling to risk participating in what is perceived to be a less-than-perfect election process, others are left to do so. Note, however, that we don't have a similar unwillingness to share in whatever benefits are to be derived from the systems the electoral process facilitates.

We should view our democratic processes with a balance of idealism and realism. We should affirm the highest ideals of democracy as demonstrated in the political process. We must use these ideals as the standard against which the process, practices and politicians are held accountable.

At the same time, we must be honest about the shortcomings of the processes and the people who guide them. We need to be able to discern between the hazards of the occupation and the process and deliberate and corrupt manipulation of them. With such an approach, we can undertake appropriate action to address the shortcomings, but certainly not to abandon the electoral process.

So, go out and vote. It is good for the life of our nation.

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