With the municipal elections to be held on 3 August this year, it is essential to identify the importance of elections and exercising the right to vote. Prof. Heather Thuynsma, campaign expert and lecturer within the Department of Political Science at UP, unpacked all there is to know when approaching the voting stations, and Karabo Maiyane, chairperson of the Tuks Student Political Association (TSPA), makes sense of voting as a means of expressing our freedom.

What does a vote truly symbolise in terms of freedom?

Thuynsma: Democracy is predicated on the principle of “government by the people and for the people”. In modern democracies it is impossible to ask people to discuss problems and solutions facing the country domestically and internationally, let alone vote on every single proposal. For this reason, we elect people to represent our interests, people who will serve us to the best of their ability. Our vote ensures our freedom to choose whomever we feel will best represent our interests. It also means we have to live with the consequences of our choice and, importantly, that we can choose differently the next time we vote.

Do you think there is a difference in the way today’s youth and older generations view the freedom to vote?

Maiyane: Yes. Unlike older people who were voting on gratitude and historical patronage, young people need to be convinced by politicians on tangible issues that affect us currently, like free education, unemployment, [and] drug abuse.

Do you believe voting should be an ongoing process of participation by the youth?

Thuynsma: Yes, I do. I believe everyone should take the time to consider political parties and their leaders. I think everyone should vote. In my opinion, if you do not take the time to do either of these things, then you have no right to complain – because some form of government, especially at the local level, affects every aspect of your life.

What are the implications on individual freedom and the overall concept of freedom within the country if citizens do not vote?

Thuynsma: There are several implications – voters say they find the whole thing a waste of time, or they feel as though the system doesn’t serve their interests or their vote simply doesn’t matter. Whatever excuse you use, at its core, voter apathy means the system does not listen to voters or even care about their needs – voters feel disengaged. Disengaged voters then do not hold their representatives accountable for their actions or inactions, in effect allowing these representatives to do as they see fit, and ultimately this compromises democracy.

What tips would you give a first-time-voter?

Maiyane: For local government elections there are two ballots: one for a preferred candidate in a ward and another for council representation. When making the decision they should read each party’s manifesto to establish if they are more in line with party X or party Y, and that is how they will decide on the representation ballot. In terms of the candidate’s ballot, they must [have] listened to individuals speeches or campaigns. If not they might link candidates with their organisation’s manifestos.

Do you think voting is as significant today as it was for the country in 1994? Why or why not?

Maiyane: Yes, even more now because the scope of issues has increased. As such we need capable leadership which understands issues and has the capacity to deliver on them.

Thuynsma: It is more important today. With fewer people partici­pating

Photo: Shen Scott

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