Some days I become overwhelmed with inspiration. Today is one of those days. Having spent the last 6 months in a country that fully believes in compulsory voting, I having been finding it difficult to meet people who are sufficiently inspired by politics. They are required to care. Some make the effort, become educated, and go to the polls. But some I have met commit the age-old folly of voting the way their parents do as they know no better, or worse, they care no less.
Today I watched a film about the 2008 Presidential elections in Ghana and so much of it reminded me of Timor Leste. The pressure, however, was so much greater in Ghana to have a successful election, not just for the people, but for the continent of Africa as a whole. The risk of being characterised as Kenya or Zimbabwe was far too great. But beyond the actual process, a few concepts struck me. A journalist was being interviewed and he raised the question that if a country votes for one party in an election and votes for another in the next, is there really any value in democracy if the government changes and the country still struggles in poverty?
Is there value in democracy if going to the ballot box does not yield results? If society is not growing or progressing, what is the value of government? What IS the role of government in that case, if democracy does not result in accountability? Is voting not just another exercise to create a facade of legitimacy? Is the institution of government not just another facet of capitalism producing benefits only for itself and those who participate in “government?” If politicians don’t respect the rule of law, why is a population expected to do so and at what point do you call that society anarchy?
I have no answers for these questions, but I will continue to explore them. One thing I know for certain is that democracy is something we privileged take for granted. We were lucky enough to come from societies that built legitimacy into the system and had leaders in the early days who respected the rule of law. Our governments may be flawed, but we have access to food, health care, and education. Ghana hasn’t fared so well, nor has Timor Leste.