Home Opinion and Features Voting should be about why, not who

Voting should be about why, not who


OPINION: As with all elections, the populace cries for policy changes but eventually ends up voting for personalities.

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AS WITH all elections, the populace cries for policy changes but eventually ends up voting for personalities.

Most election outcomes are determined within 60 days before an election. No subsequent drama or breaking news can change the outcome of that election. Even the death of a stellar candidate won’t change people’s minds. Death and bad news serve only to galvanise voters.

Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tapes were released on October 7, less than 30 days before the 2016 US election. Rather than end his campaign, it elevated his messianic cult status among his largely white conservative Christian base.

The KZN killing fields and the East Rand hostel violence did not stop black people from going to the polls. It had the opposite effect – they thronged to the polls and defied fear and death.

South Africa is filled with a sense of the dramatic at present that everyone believes will influence the election.

My analysis is that the election result, whether held today or 60 days from today, will be the same. Voters have already decided.

Undecided voters and first-time voters are being presented as wild cards that could swing the election. The most obvious sign that an increase in newly-registered voters indicates is that the justice message is going to influence the elections. When young people register in droves to vote, it’s usually to end a war, end an injustice, or begin a revolution.

Sitting with some young people on Saturday, all from fairly affluent and educated backgrounds, and some who will be first-time voters, I was asked who they should vote for.

My response was not to tell them who they should be voting for, but rather to ask them “Why are you voting?” The why is a much more important question. The “who” question is the personality or party trap. It’s what all politicians or parties want voters to answer.

The “why” question is the discussion that leads to the policy pathway. If you want to improve housing, then why are you voting for policies that uphold apartheid spatial design and are reluctant about inclusive housing? If you want to help the poor, then why are you voting for policies that are against poverty eradication?

The “who” of elections is a dangerous trap. Parties present us with messiahs for our fears and “strongmen” for our wars, while what we really need are sense-making policies for our present and our future.

They give us dancers and baby-huggers to soothe our need for identification and they give us promise-makers to address our tired confusion, while what we really need are honest confessions of failure and frank talk about broken promises. Every voter must answer their own why.

The death of fraudster Markus Jooste and the hopefully imminent arrest on corruption charges of Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will have no impact on the outcome of the election. Helen Zille’s “The rand will crash” TikTok interview and Herman Mashaba’s “Apartheid was better for black business” interview will have no outcome on the elections. They simply confirm what voters have already decided – either way.

Sixty days before an election you no longer have the power to change people’s minds. Whatever parties publish now, only serves to confirm the decisions voters made for or against them. But I will tell you what people will be impressed by over the last 60 days: Decency, humility, and vulnerability. When politicians stop canvassing like predatory salesmen and start acting like decent humans before an election, having honest conversations about their previous failures, and stop doing nauseating photo-ops in places they will never go to while in office, voters begin to see the why.

It is a “Thank God” moment in our democracy that we have no Mandela-esque political leaders who mesmerise us anymore. The rise of decency, humility and vulnerability is the new gift we give ourselves. Why over who. Policy over personality.

* Lorenzo A Davids is the CEO of the Development Impact Fund.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA.

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