Voter apathy the thorn in S.Africa’s democracy - CNBC Africa

Voter apathy the thorn in S.Africa’s democracy

Southern Africa

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A person voting. PHOTO: Getty Images

“Voting is a very important part of democracy, but what we’re finding between opinion polls is that a lot of people who are choosing not to vote, almost 25 per cent of people polled said that they weren’t going to vote,” Georgina Alexander, researcher from the South African Institute of Race Relations, told CNBC Africa.

“When they were asked why they weren’t going to vote they said that ‘it doesn’t matter which party we vote for, it’s all going to be the same and my vote’s not going to make a difference.’ There are a lot of people out there who are feeling very disenfranchised and very disillusioned, and we see the manifestations of that through the service delivery protests especially.”

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Alexander added that in 2009, there were 41 per cent of eligible voters who did not vote, which was a significantly large proportion and even more than the percentage of eligible voters who ended up voting for the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s current ruling party.

There are additional concerns that a number of South Africans will continue to vote as they did in the past, regardless of the changes or lack thereof in the current political landscape.

“This election I think is going to be slightly different. There’s a lot more energy and interest and excitement about this election but more because we want to know what’s going to happen. Is the ANC going to drop below the 60 per cent mark, is the Economic Freedom Front going to do well, what’s going to happen with Agang,” Alexander explained.

“A lot of those issues around the elections will hopefully draw a lot more voters out this time, because in a young democracy we have such high levels of apathy. It is a very big problem.”

While some predictions claim that the ANC will come in the same position it did in the previous election, Alexander clarified that poll predictions and results were not to be taken as a pin point measure of expectations.

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“Polls are very temperamental. It goes with the attitude on the day at the time. Polling data, you’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt, but also it is quite worrying that a lot of young voters are choosing not to vote. In the general scheme of things, they only form six per cent of the eligible voters.”

Alexander added that in another poll which examined whether they talked about politics almost themselves, and almost half of them responded that they did not in fact talk about the subject at all.

South Africa's next general elections, which will be held on 7 May, will therefore be singificant in either building or razing the foundations of the young voter.

“Theorists who want to look at voter apathy in more mature democracies, they basically say that people feel that their system is running effectively, and there’s no real need to kind of vote because they’re quite happy with the status quo,” Alexander explained.

“In a youthful democracy, it’s very important to get the people to vote because that’s a very true indication of how they are feeling. It’s also a way for political parties to take the temperature of what’s going on.”