17 May 2008
To boycott elections or not
Stories by Fanyana Mabuza
The visiting Director of Programmes at Freedom House, a United States-based democracy advocacy group, Dr Herman Roberts has treaded carefully on the issue of whether to boycott or not to boycott the upcoming country’s elections.
Speaking during a lecture at the Public Affairs section of the Embassy of the United States of America on Wednesday, Dr Herman observed that both actions could be effectively used as a tool to push forward any organisation’s mandate.
He was answering questions from the floor, which wanted to know whether there would be any gains if the country’s political formations vowed to boycott the upcoming polls.
Recently, the Swaziland Democratic Front, a coalition of political parties in the country, urged its membership to boycott the polls, saying attending would be like legitimising the ‘fraudulent election’ that was being forced down the throats of the masses.
This call was repeatedly made at the recent May Day celebrations, held at Simunye.
“A boycott can be a powerful tool for those who do not have power and wrestle it from those who wield it. It can also help make a case for those people choosing to boycott, as they can use arguments that the election is always stolen by the present regime.
For example, you may decide to boycott because you know that you can never win an election against the present regime.
"When you tell this to the international community, it is bound to stand up and listen, take more interest in that country’s polling mechanisms and eventually see for itself how the election is stolen, while putting pressure in that regime to play fairly.” Dr Herman said.
He also observed that taking part in an election could just be as effective.
“You can decide to join the election after a number of years of boycotting.
"By breaking the boycott you would be showing the rest of the world that you would never win an election when a particular regime is in power as it may use every trick in the book, legal or illegal, to hold on to power, and by taking part you are exposing that fact which could not have surfaced had you boycotted.”
Dr Herman said whatever the case may be, a party should be very clear of the choice it was making and articulate it fully to its constituent, which can then make a decision whether to partake or not. “It is the constituency that must make the final decision and leaders should ensure that those decisions are taken by an informed electorate. So it is up to the people to decide whether to boycott or not boycott the elections, but that position must be fully informed,” he said.
He closed by disclosing that research had shown that some people boycotted polls because of apathy and would rather visit the malls than vote because they did not care much about a country’s political process while others may boycott as a result of cynicism, meaning that they believed voting won’t change anything.
“The latter are the most dangerous as they are shutting themselves out of the process rather than attempt to change things for the better.”