Why elections are more than just voting

Voters queue to cast their votes at the Kondele roundabout in Kisumu county in the 2017 general election. [File, Standard]

Every five years, the country gets into a frenzy as we prepare for general elections. All our institutions and individuals focus on voting who will be the next Member of the County Assembly (MCA), MP, senator or women representative.

We forgot the governor and president. Why are women reps not called senators, yet they are voted in the same way as senators? And it seems to me that I can vie for a woman rep, though being a man.

The framers of the 2010 constitution wanted to entrench democracy so that citizens can have the right to choose whoever they deem best to lead them.

They assumed, guided by history, that democracy is the best form of government. They were vindicated by the fall of communism after 70 years of experimentation.

Generally speaking, democratic countries enjoy more freedom and economic progress. China, however, remains an outlier when we connect democracy and economic progress. But having lived in a developed country, I noted that freedom is relative; you become a slave of the clock and economic fears.

The economic-social security such as pension can easily compete with 'security' offered by our extended families, which are now becoming smaller.

Democracy, if put to the right use, gets us the best leaders whose policies are implemented for the good of the country.

Distilling such leaders from the crowd is not easy. It requires lots of energy just like any other distillation, including that of chang’aa.

Getting enough information on leaders is one form of distillation. By publicising their agendas or manifestos, voters ought to differentiate good from bad leaders.

Why then do we end up recycling the same leaders or getting bad leaders? Here are possible reasons that you can enrich.

First, those seeking leadership portray the best of themselves while displaying the worst of their opponents. And we love that. We end up voting for leaders we know little about.

Two, they cleverly disguise their personal interests as public interest. A good example; should we be thankful to leaders for building roads or schools?

When a leader promises to build a school for you, why do we clap and he is using our taxes, not his money?

Three, few leaders will say they are attracted to leadership by money and perks thereof. We are yet to see a leader who serves as a volunteer like the missionaries who taught in our schools during the colonial period and briefly after independence.

But we all know that those seeking elective posts have done their math on cost and benefits. Could unemployment be making elected posts more popular?

Four, the voting cycle every five years allows us to scapegoat, which was very common in our traditional societies and dovetails so well with modern religion. We get annoyed with current leaders and want to vote them out, we want to 'sacrifice' them for our problems.

We see them as the cause of national or local problems. By voting them away, we feel relieved just as we did when we sacrificed a goat or a chicken in a time of disasters.

One unintended consequence of scapegoating is that we end up not solving lots of our problems that have nothing to do with our leaders.

Five, voting every five years serves as a safety valve, just like that in a pressure cooker. If there is none at home, you see the lid of your sufuria or pot going off as the food or liquid boils off.

National anger or localised waves of anger are dissipated by voting. By discussing in public the failures and success of the current regime, we feel relieved, a sort of catharsis.

That is why long periods of one-man rule or dictatorship end up in disasters, the anger explodes in one day. This is democracy’s greatest strength despite its weakness such as perpetuating vested interests.

Six, let’s not forget that our polls every five years relieve national pressure through entertainment. Political rallies, adverts and church and funeral meetings are full of entertainment as contestants try to outdo each other.

At times, they hire comedians and musicians to capture our attention.

Unfortunately, the entertainment part of our politics masks the real issues on which our politics should be based. But let’s give credit.

For once, the economy has become an issue and it’s not hard to guess why. Joblessness has become a national issue and preempting it is a clever political move.

Did you notice the recent unfreezing of parastatal hiring?

The other issue less talked about is the conspicuous display of power by the elected leaders. No better than driving big cars.

Why is the car still a status symbol 136 years since its invention? Why so much focus on cars, their sizes? Seen a Government of Kenya (GK) Vitz?

Voting gives the nation a chance to inject competition into leadership, forcing new ideas into the market.

It brings dynamism into political leadership, which spills over into economics. Yet I hear voices of resentment, 'I shall not vote.”

While we may be disillusioned with our leaders, voting for new ones or offering yourself as a leader is one way to address the national problems, to renew our nation.

Luckily for our leaders, the voters have never realised the power they hold, from changing leadership to influencing policy through public participation. Why have voters not recalled non-performing representatives?

That walk to the voting booth before sunrise, under the rain or sunshine, can make a difference to you and your country. I will say it again, if you do not know who vote for, then vote against someone.

As a matter of concern, why were the framers of the 2010 constitution cheery-picking ideas? Why did they introduce governors and senators from the US, or is it the Nigerian constitution, and not staggered elections?

Why don’t we have mid-term elections with half MCAs or senators, MPs and governors elected to office after 2.5 years? This will keep the government in power on its toes while making elections easier to manage and ensure continuity.

Was that in the Building Bridges Initiative? We pick the representatives to serve 2.5 years by lottery starting this year after the polls.

Finally, why not think without the box. Why not get a government of volunteers serving as MCAs, MPs, senators, governors and even the president and his cabinet?

Is serving the country not a greater honour, more than money or salary? Would you volunteer?