Voter Alienation & Voter Apathy: Signs and Symptoms for Sierra Leone’s 2023 Upcoming Elections.
From the inception of democratisation in the history of Sierra Leone under the patriarchal leadership of the APC’s one party state, we have never seen political aspirants, leaders, stakeholders and sympathisers of political parties pleading with potential voters to engage in voter registration exercise on a massive scale like now for the upcoming 2023 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.
This massive mobilisation, unannounced fore knowledge on district lock downs, transport tokens, vehicle and motor bike incentives have raised eyebrows steering our thoughtful processes on several issues with “why questions” requiring answers from those at the helm of affairs of our country and localities.
Those questions that comes to mind are as follows;
1. Are politicians doing their work well to enthuse potential voters?
2. Has the incumbent government delivered on its promises and are they felt by ordinary citizens?
3. If manifesto promises are being met, are they the felt need of the people given the current economic challenge?
4. Is reluctance by citizens to register directly linked with local representative in local councils within districts or the entire country or presidency?
5. Do citizens feel alienated about the political process?
6. Are the expectations of citizens met?
7. Are they tired of broken promises or forced implementation of rules without due regards for humanity?
8. Are social contract being bridged by politicians as in the case of the citizen’s manifesto as of last 2018 elections?
9. Is the incumbent government over zealous about priorities or are they misplaced in the first place?
The list goes on. What is clear is that reluctance and early signs of ill motivation was saying something before the incentives of late. From verbal statement and cavalier approach by citizens towards voter registration, it is clear the people aren’t happy at all.
While the figures may present otherwise in comparison to yester years of voter registration following stakeholder involvement and incentives, voter sensitisation and motivation are at their very low ebb. The same is so for motivation for prospective voters taking on their heels for registration and in fact on the day ballots are cast. There is no guarantee current voter registration will get up to 70% turnout haven observed the registration turn out and expression heard from potential voters during our media investigations. There are hopes for reversal if the current complaints are dealt with urgently and if an unbiased selection of political candidature is employed-the people’s choices. No matter how new or old they may be in politics or political parties.
The figures for first time voters and registration may be rising generally but the back-end work is quite tedious. Pleading, incentives and persuasive words leading to some form of covert compel is at its high state. The majority of prospective voters express no interest in the initial stage of the voting process which is registration before incentives. Vox pop from citizens depict elections do not bring any benefits to them and that the main reason for their turnout is for identification purposes only. Would this change in the coming months?
Given the aforementioned approaches by various players including key stake holders, I am inclined to ask few questions.
Are we heading for voter apathy or are there manifested traits of felt alienation in the governing process of previously elected persons within the country? Will the introduction of a proportional representation (PR system) of voting compound such position further?
Certainly, stakeholders including reverends, Imams, paramount chiefs, section chiefs and tribal heads have joined the process to motivate would-be voters. These persons under normal circumstances would have otherwise exhibited their neutrality being public servants. Conversely, they are now buried in the guise of voter registration mobilisation demonstrating desperation and feeling the pinch of price hikes and community unrest hovering around tribal sentiments. Certainly, another question looms in the mind. How apolitical are our local and tribal leaders in politics in the last 10 years? Have we desecrated those sanctities for political gains? Are public figures being patriotic on the other hand to ensure peoples voices through the ballot boxes are heard? How do we re-engineer a politically correct aloofness for tribal, section and paramount chiefs or other public figures who should act as observers and moral guarantors for all political parties? Are we nurturing bad precedence here? Who can call the shot off in local governance and in our law books on the outright involvement of local leaders in politics?
Given the recent voter registration turn out and the mid-term census which is contentious, the PR system is imminent. My point is what will it bring to the table in this current political dilemma for the incumbent and main opposition parties? Will forced acceptance of no alternative with powers heavily handed over to political parties to do at will what they like, maybe for the next five years, deepen the voter apathetic and alienation pathway of our politics?
Should the SLPP led government feel a slap in the face for the mid-term census result considering voter registration turnout? How can the midterm census activity be justified if the PR system is introduced. Was tax payers’ money wasted? Is the intent for PR exposing further the porosity and language used in our constitution? Would section 38a of the act of parliament of the public Elections 2022 be implement not meeting relevant conditions as set in preceding and succeeding clauses?
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