Why voters are weary

Why voters are weary

MASERU – DEVELOPMENT for Peace Education (DPE), an advocacy group, has been hired by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to help reduce voter apathy through education campaigns.
The DPE has been using sports activities to entice people to gatherings where they are taught the importance of voting.
Sofonea Shale, DPE’s coordinator, believes it is only through such campaigns that the IEC can have a shot at achieving its self-imposed target of getting 85 percent of registered voters to cast their ballots in the June 3 election.

thepost this week spoke to Shale about the voter education campaigns, voter apathy and the election in general. We started by asking him what he thinks are the main causes of voter apathy.

That is a subject that still needs to be thoroughly researched. Perhaps our institutions of higher learning should be looking at that so that we understand this problem.
But as we wait for that kind of research we can only rely on observations and what the voters are telling us as we do the education campaigns around the country.
The issue of voter apathy goes comes from the way the political parties propagate their issues and how they interact with the people between elections. When you talk to the voters they blame the politicians for not fulfilling their promises.

Politicians will always try to engage the people and find out what issues are closer to their hearts. They will then put those issues in their election manifestos.
They appear to understand what the people really want. Everything they then say and promise during the campaign forms the basis of their relationship with the voters.
Yet when delivery time comes politicians find it difficult to fulfil their promises. It could be that the MPs who are not in government don’t have the resources to achieve their goals.
But we have also seen that even those MPs in government find it tough to deliver because resources are limited.

And they don’t explain why they have failed to deliver.

That is precisely the problem. When elections come they make the same old promises. Some even make more promises when the people are still waiting for them to fulfil their previous promises.

Generally, voter apathy is caused by non-delivery. People are beginning to feel that the government is not relevant in their lives.
This is especially apparent in communities where people do not live off the State. They don’t feel the impact of the government on their lives.
They still continue to struggle, with or without the government. They have always struggled on their own. Lesotho is unlike South Africa where people really feel the government has to do something for them.

What can be done to get people to start voting again?

I think the mobilisation of voters is one of those things that can be done to reduce voter apathy. But we need to go deeper to understand the problem. Since 1993 Lesotho governments have been dominated by a single party. It is possible that the apathy can be attributed to the problems of the parties in government.

The infighting in them has caused them to split and the supporters are probably disillusioned. That could explain why people are not voting.
There are some who are concerned about the proliferation of political parties in the country but some can argue that because there are many political parties people might be excited to vote.

People might see the old parties as having become arrogant and complacent. All these are perspectives we have to look at as we try to understand why people are not voting.
But even as we wait for scientific research we cannot say we are not going to do anything about the apathy. We should continue with voter education campaigns.

What role do political parties and politicians play in that process?

I believe we have to change the way we do these voter education campaigns. In most cases they come right at the end when people are already tired and have decided to stop voting.
I believe voter education should be an on-going process. Such campaigns should form the platform for the people to engage with the politicians so that they hold them accountable.
People want to know why politicians have failed to deliver on their promises.  One of the ways to do this is to democratise political parties.

Accountability and engagement is something that has to be nurtured by the political parties themselves. The people should be able to talk directly with the leaders of political parties.
It is sad that our politicians are always fighting instead of dealing with the fundamental issues of national development.
The opposition parties are forever complaining that things like Vision 2020 and the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) are not being followed yet they never question government about the budget.

For instance, the NSDP says government is going to create 50 000 jobs in five years yet when the budget comes we don’t hear the politicians asking how it will help achieve that goal.
The question of how many jobs are going to be created and whether they are permanent or temporary is never asked.

The independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has hired DPE to help in the ambitious project to increase the voter turnout to 85 percent from 46 percent in 2015. Do you think that is achievable?

Our organisation is enthusiastic about the project. We are motivated by the intention behind it. It also resonates with what we are trying to achieve as an organisation.
Therefore, any increase in the voter turnout will be an improvement. If it increases by between 15 or 20 percent it will be a remarkable achievement.

What do you think are the issues in this election?

Well, there are no issues because politicians are talking about each other instead of focusing on the real issues. They are attacking each other instead of dealing with the fundamental issues.

So issues like corruption, unemployment and the gap between the rich and the poor are not being raised in the political campaign.
These are the issues that should define this election but we are not hearing about them.
l See related story on page 4,5

Staff reporter

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