Of national values and why voters continually fall for lies


Political analyst, Leonard Khafafa. [File, Standard]

The events of the past few weeks have revealed a fallout of erstwhile political allies. It is now fait accompli that the opposition movement Nasa, is in its death throes. The ruling Jubilee Party is moribund, with its principals diametrically opposed in all but name.

Meanwhile, the race to win the hearts of the electorate, in anticipation of next year’s national elections, has begun. Phrases and slogans are being bandied by those who tout themselves as the solution to the country’s deeply unsettling problems. The catchiest of these is the bottom-up economic model, currently the rallying cry of the Deputy President and his supporters. It has found resonance with a huge section of the country and disconcerted those opposed to his bid for the presidency in 2022.

But interviews with some of his lieutenants betray their lack of knowledge of the policies they espouse. A recent television interview with one of them showed her to be totally out of depth. Her statement, in response to a question on the meaning of “bottom-up approach,” tore away a thin layer of sophistication to expose ignorance that bordered on the ludicrous. She couldn’t make sense, not even with helpful hints from her interlocutor.

Conviction as a natural underpinning of political rhetoric is sorely lacking. Vacuous statements are passed off as intellectual heft. The superficiality of our times is revealed by those who shout the loudest and yet reveal their thinking to be merely skin-deep. Political parties run on manifestos that are discarded as soon as elections are over. Memoranda of understanding are dishonoured with promises of intent not worth the paper they are written on. Nothing is sacred; nothing is binding!

Which is why talk of an economic nirvana promised by those who intend to contest for political offices should be taken with a pinch of salt. Leading presidential contenders have, at some point, served in government. Yet nothing of their tenures suggests the sort of brilliance that elevated South Korea, Singapore and other tigers of the East to developed nation status. In fact most of them owe their past electoral victories to either political patronage or the prevailing euphoria of the day that catapulted relative unknowns to national limelight. For example, many political lightweights made it to Parliament, not on the strength of their convictions but because they were in the right parties when “three-piece suit” voting was the mantra.

Little wonder then that the country is in parlous straits. Perhaps those in charge have scant knowledge of finance and economics. Perhaps those to whom responsibility has been delegated do not possess the requisite statecraft to handle the complexity of government in a multi-ethnic set-up. Perhaps the view of politics has become so proprietary as to serve only the interests of the narrow few.

And yet the electorate will continually fall for lies, for gimmicks, for razzmatazz. They will be taken in by demagogues appealing to primordial instincts. They will be suborned by the corrupt to overlook the transgressions of the past. And they will wonder why the country remains broken; why systems and institutions fail; why those at the helm do not live up to their campaign pledges.

It boils down to national values or lack thereof. When society’s mores and ethos are eroded by the celebration of vice, it follows naturally that dishonest characters are elevated to leadership. When Chapter 6 of the Constitution on integrity is treated as a mere suggestion, expect that miscreants will continue making important national decisions for the foreseeable future.

An honest conversation is needful; one that discusses the core values of the nation and scores political aspirants based on these. The electorate must be made acutely aware of what they should stand for and the correlation between bad choices and living in privation. A line must be drawn that separates integrity from the patently dishonest. The nation must be conscious of the fact that those who stand for nothing will fall for anything!

Mr Khafafa is a political analyst

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