By Najma Sadeque
Published: October 3, 2011
How many people know that our rulers were ‘voted’ in by only a minority of the people? This accounts for not even half the number of eligible voters. In fact, less than 40 per cent; whereas 70 per cent vote in Bangladesh and 60 per cent in India. In other words, our rulers came to power by default, that too by narrow and insignificant margins and fluid coalitions. Then there are the feudal unelected who muscle their way to the top slots. Can parties that don’t practice democracy within their own ranks, deliver democracy, transparency, accountability and socio-economic dues to the people? If votes under duress were to be excluded — such as of landless peasants sheltering on feudal lands in exchange for being exploited — then the number of voters would probably drop to a third or less.
Not only civil society organisations, but more individuals including youth, have in recent years, been loosely grouping themselves to discuss and educate themselves politically at meetings and via the internet. Some women’s NGOs have actually trained women parliamentarians and other representatives to do their job. The past three years have highlighted paralysing corruption; skyrocketing prices and unbelievable, unacknowledged starvation; a crumbling economy and its outfall — joblessness and despair; and finally the unforgivable callousness with which millions of flood victims and the hungry have been treated. What is the new approach that voters are being called to adopt? To date, voting has been based mostly on vague, generalised political party promises and dynastic, cultish or ideological appeals. Most ‘solutions’ were merely political deals between rivals or collaborators, focusing on capturing seats and controlling key ministries and powers.
Now some concerned citizens are asking people to ignore political promises — they have all been heard umpteen times before — and to vote on the basis of socio-economic imperatives that citizens are entitled to.
The criteria list will appear in the form of a long questionnaire and commitments sought with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ boxes enabling people to determine their basis for voting. It will focus on the suitability of candidates as individuals, as well as expectations from parties. Who knows? It may lead to a better quality of representative.
Some key points are as follows: 1) No to land monopolies, such as by feudals and big landlords 2) No to candidates with dual nationality (or of spouse and dependent children) or those emerging from World Bank and IMF, as it involves a clear conflict of interest. 3) No to candidates who have been charged with criminal or financial offences, and whose cases remain pending. 4) No to making media spectacles of what should be private actions, namely Hajj and Umrah, especially at public expense. 5) No to leasing of agricultural lands (and water) to foreign investors. 6) Commitment to land reform, land redistribution, and agricultural tax for large landholdings. 7) Lifetime access to land, preferably on a usufruct basis, of at least one indivisible acre each to every peasant woman and man, separately (not per family or to male ‘heads of family only). 8) Commitment towards women’s representation being raised to 50 per cent. 9) Commitment to making the right to food, land, water, healthcare, education, credit, and justice, all fundamental rights explicitly and unambiguously spelt out in, and as integral to, the constitution, for Muslim and non-Muslim citizens alike. 10) Health and education be each accorded a minimum five per cent of the budget. 11) Commitment to decommodification of food crops as a human right, and removing agriculture from the World Trade Organisation. 12) Commitment to denationalisation of public goods, such as utilities like electricity, telephones. 13) Commitment to proportionate representation of labour in parliament. 14) Commitment to freedom of information, and ongoing transparency of all financial actions.
Over 60 per cent of our registered voters do not vote — some are uninformed, disallowed or intimidated. Others have become disillusioned and disinterested, and therefore inadvertently responsible for enabling opportunism. Approximately six million turn 18 and become eligible to vote every year, providing 18 million potential new votes at the next elections, about half of them are urban.
It’s not enough to vote. It’s important who and what to vote for.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2011.