Why You Should Vote

Will voters who are disappointed in politics and government feel powerless and choose to stay at home? Or rather, will they turn out in high numbers, bolstering the opposition vote? Voter turnout will be a crucial factor in this year’s election results and this Brief considers reasons why voters may – or may not – turn out on Election Day, also looking at voter registration and turnout in past elections. In 2009, the voters roll is larger than it has ever been before – 23 million voters – and this growth has been attributed to new and young voters. What does this mean for the electoral outcome? Will you vote on 22nd April?

Only a few weeks now remain until next month’s elections, and citizens are eager to see how significantly our political landscape may – or may not – have changed on April 23rd.

The last few years have seen a series of significant, and largely unanticipated events in South Africa’s adolescent democracy. In 2005, when his Financial Advisor Shabir Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption, then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma was dismissed from office. Zuma was later tried for rape, and acquitted, but still faces pending corruption charges.

However, with a growing popular support base, Zuma defeated then-President Thabo Mbeki in a race for the leadership of the ANC, at the 2007 Polokwane conference. Mbeki was later recalled from state office, accompanied by the resignation of a number of high-ranking ANC leaders and Cabinet members. From deepening rifts within the party emerged new opposition, the Congress of the People (COPE).

Opinion polls suggest that the unsettling changes within government and the ANC have not gone unnoticed by the public. Markinor’s 2008 Government Performance Barometer found waning confidence in government’s ability to make “the right appointments to lead departments and agencies”, and to maintain transparency and accountability. (Presidency, 2008: 93)

Government’s Fifteen Year Review, released last year, reported worsening public perceptions of the independence of state institutions, and particularly those in the criminal justice sector. The Review noted “some public ambivalence and debates around some judgements, seen as reflecting racial or gender stereotypes, or as having political motivation”, and added that when “linked to party-political dynamics, such challenges could be beginning to detract from the popular legitimacy of the courts.” (Presidency, 2008: 47)

Just over half of all respondents to a recent Afrobarometer survey indicated that they don’t trust Jacob Zuma “at all” (33%), or only trust him “a little” (19%). (Afrobarometer, 2009: 33)

These, and other political developments within the country appear to have provoked heightened interest in election outcomes next month. The Voter’s Roll has swelled beyond numbers of registered voters in any of the three previous democratic national elections.

But while record levels of voter registration are an indication of increased interest in elections generally, the number of voters who actually cast a ballot on Election Day will be of critical importance, and will have a real impact on parties’ performance at the polls.

Will voters who have experienced declining confidence in government be beset by apathy and powerlessness, and choose to stay at home? Or rather, will they turn out in high numbers, bolstering the opposition vote? And conversely, will supporters of the ruling party come out in their numbers to support a beleaguered president, or rather give the polls a miss, confident of a comfortable victory?

Voter turnout will be a crucial factor in this year’s election results. Beyond getting supporters into voting booths, parties must also vie for the coveted “stay-at-home” vote. In this Brief, we look at voter registration and turnout in past national and provincial elections. We discuss reasons why voters may – or may not – turn out on Election Day, and consider strategies to encourage higher participation at the polls.

Read more on Idasa’s website here.

What will you do on 22nd April? Will you vote?

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One Response

  1. No I will not vote this time, or soon, for that matter.

    As a member of a minority group and given our set way of not voting across racial groupings, my vote wil not make such a big difference.

    However minoriry politics is a new animal to us and we have found many other, legal and alternative and more effective ways to apply pressure on our government. This, in my case, mainly means that I simply spread information, as presented in our press, to the international media, relevant people and institutions.

    When my daughter (with 7 distinctions in matric in 1995) was not allowed into medical school I warned the international medical fraternity just to start keeping a closer watch on our localmedical standards. We all know what happened afterwards.

    I suggeseted to the UN (UNESCO) to take another look at Kader Asmal when he wanted to introduce outcomes based education and submitted pessimistic expert educator’s opinions along with it to educators in Europe and the US.

    The latest scandalous handling of the Dalai Lama-affair was also submitted to the UN, the International media and a number of formal ex-pats organisations from Australia to Zambia. The result was probably that a few more people now wonder about the inregrity and morals of our government.

    I always ensure that I warn that my opinions might be flawed and include links for follow-up and verification. I aslo, to be fair, include my target person, group or ogranisation in the address list.

    I have had much more external than local reaction and the only real problem I have with this form of legitimate politcal pressure is that our politicians are too lazy or arrogant to respond in many cases. When I then deliberately try to provoke an answer, I find that they are impervious to insult and that their lack of response is part of a definite but cancerous strategy whereby they seem to think that problems will disappear if they ignore them.

    I do not foresee that we we will soon vote for or from wider and more heterogeneous political parties (soosrt soek soort.) I expect a dangerous erosion of the Rule of Law and the democratic process under Zuma (Metro Cops shooting at the police with impunity, for one) and that might then just easily lead to a bloody civil war. From a personal perspective, I will not vote until a time-limit is placed on BEE and affirmative action, the proper division between the political party (ANC) and government is restored, service delivery is improved and politicians take responsibility for their misdeeds.

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