Reader Contribution

How will election 2019 play out in world’s “protest capital”?

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Tough decisions await South African voters in 2019, living in the “protest capital” of the world, as they are increasingly living in a “dangerous place.”

As politicians and political parties of all persuasions are increasingly move into campaign mode, it coincides with what seems to be a new spike in  especially community based protests – presently heavily focused on the emotional issue of housing opportunities, or the lack thereof.

The maturity of South Africa’s democracy is set to be severely tested under circumstances far from ideal calm, soberly calculate decision making by communities subjected to high stress levels.  

It is a contest playing itself out against a global background, which Carin Runciman (Senior Researcher of the Centre for Social Change at the University of Johannesburg) described as democracy not “making people’s lives better.”

In the article, also carried by The Intelligence Bulletin, she describes how powerless, and without real democracy, large numbers of ordinary citizens feel.

In reaction to this article, one of our readers, going by the pseudonym Chris, in our comments columns posted a link to an extract from the book  Wars, gun and votes: Democracy in dangerous places.

We found the extract about what Collier has to say in regard to political leaders, worth publishing here for the convenience of our readers.

The extract:

In modern well developed Democracies, politicians are disciplined by facing the voters. If an incumbent politician had not even tried to deliver what people want, electors would notice.

Politicians want to stay in power. Partly because they feel a vocation to do good, we hope, but it is also a choice of lifestyle: it is their profession and they don’t want to be unemployed. So, between media scrutiny and the politician’s appetite for power, political leaders are pinioned to trying hard for the common good.

In under developed new Democracies this is often not the case.

Voters often have precious little knowledge about the choices they face. Even past performance of the leaders, which voters just lived through, will typically be open to multiple interpretations.
There is also the problem that some voters are voting for or against the political leaders, regardless of performance, because of ethnic identity. Their societies are usually divided into competing ethnic/identity groups.

As a result, ethnicity is by far the easiest basis on which to organize political loyalty.
The problem with that is that loyalty is not issues-based and thus not performance-based either.
Votes are simply frozen in identity blocks of rival identities.

A consequence of these frozen voter blocks are that the votes that an incumbent politician attract, are not sensitive to performance of the politician: votes do not hinge on whether he has done a good job or bad job

So, besides lack of info for voters, relative few electors are going to base their votes on performance judgment.

Perhaps also the scope for the government to produce a good performance is really not good at all, maybe due to its own limitations. Especially after years of poorperformance, a government may even lose faith in its ability to make a decisive difference.

Finally, suppose that if the government does choose to be good, it has to forgo behaviour that is decidedly lucrative. When messing about with the economy to the detriment of citizens, but opening up many little niches and crannies for personal enrichment and for rewarding loyalty among followers.

As quality of voter information is made weaker, as identity politics freezes more and more votes, as government’s confidence in its own ability to shape the events diminishes, and as the cost of forgoing bad governance are increased, a point is reached at which facing an election does not discipline incumbent politicians into trying to perform well.

And, if politicians can still face a reasonable chance of winning elections without bothering to deliver good performance, the sort of people who seek to become politicians will change.

If being honest and competent does not give you an electoral advantage, then the Honest and Competent will be discouraged. Crooks will replace the honest candidates.

One depressing indicator of such a process is that democratic politics in these societies attract candidates with criminal records. Electors just don’t have enough info to sort out accusations from reality: either the press is too muzzled or too free

There is so much mudslinging without recourse to verification, that voters discount whatever they are told, or electors are frozen in identity blocks and support their own politicians, even if they are criminals.

Our conclusion

There will be a heavy responsibility resting on the shoulders of the voters of South Africa in the election of 2019. They will be defining to what extent our democracy has reached maturity by the time it turns 25.

Judged by what happened last week in municipal elections at Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, it might have become much more mature than some leading politician realise.

Also read: SA protesters echo a global cry: democracy isn’t making people’s lives better

                South Africa heading for new political dispensation?

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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