It’s been a week. And some of my family and friends are still not talking to me. Because – unlike many if not most of them – I didn’t make the by-now all-too-familiar jaunt down to the polling booth. Now don’t get me wrong, dears. Usually, I vote. But not this time. And it cost [...]


The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Why I didn’t vote – and why that matters not!


It’s been a week. And some of my family and friends are still not talking to me. Because – unlike many if not most of them – I didn’t make the by-now all-too-familiar jaunt down to the polling booth.

Now don’t get me wrong, dears. Usually, I vote. But not this time. And it cost me some peace of mind. Mainly at the hands of dyed-in-indelible-ink democrats, or irrepressible republicans, or whatever electoral junkies are calling themselves these days.

The first inkling that something was not quite as it should be flagged itself on the day I received the electoral list. This pollster’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling up and down the who’s who, could not discern a single name for whose person I’d spare the time of day, much less half an hour of precious life. Respect to politicos of all ilks alike, but this was a veritable rogue’s gallery!

Of course, I exaggerate. There may have been a few men – and women – good and true in that list. But for better or for worse, I’d have put them down in one of three categories. Mad. Bad. Sad. That is to say: the deluded, the deceptive/deceitful, and the depressing.
Let me explain myself. In my book these days, anyone seeking public office – perhaps, especially at provincial council level – falls into one of these three categories. Some think they can genuinely make a difference to the state of the nation – or, at the very least, the province. These, I think, are mad/deluded – or, at best, in denial. Others know they won’t, don’t even want to, or simply can’t; but seek the people’s mandate anyway. And these, I feel, are the most dangerous lot (bad, deceptive/deceitful). A few think they will, can, and do in fact try to make a change; but don’t know they won’t or can’t. They’re sad: fit only to be pitied more than the poor voters who cast their lot for them…

Every reason, therefore, to stay put on the day of polls?

Really, dears, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. You may have thought of all of this before. And unless you have been overseas, elsewhere, or out of your mind, this classification of pedlars and metaphorical others beginning with the same letter (mind your P’s, dears!)… well, I shouldn’t have had to spell it out? Regrettably, I did.

And you wouldn’t believe the responses I got! One young lady urged me – as if she were addressing a public meeting – to “Vote, people! Don’t forget to vote…” (And she didn’t cooperate too much when I asked her to argue her case…) Another unkindly lumped me with “all these people who neglect their civic duties” and blamed me and other likeminded shirkers for being “responsible for the mess we are in”. Some others rather charitably (I later thought) constrained themselves to simply encouraging me and the other lost souls like me to “do the minimum to sustain democracy”.

Not a pretty picture on polling day! It got uglier when all the hectoring riled up yours truly so much that I had to gently request all those sea-green incurable republicans to please get off my case… I am, I said in mid- to high dudgeon, a “conscientious objector” (for today/this week, at least).

To wit, I object to an embarrassment of meaningless polls. I object to the investment of so much time and money and energy in deceptively feel-good elections. I object to the quite undemocratic shanghaiing of the people’s mandate by a bunch of unscrupulous manipulators (politicos, press, and propagandists alike) who switch sides/opinions/principles more often than Mata Hari had to send out for fresh linen and lingerie. (Now you know what the P stands for, don’t you?)

The rot did not stop there. High on righteous indignation, this columnist essayed in his defence that some of us have been ‘voting with our other organs of action’ for donkeys’ years now. If we miss out a poll or three here or there, it may well be because a few of us have been penning academic pieces, inking journal articles, conducting workshops/seminars/symposia on good governance, participating in protest walks, etc. For yonks, at that. These, too, are as pertinent (and about as efficacious) as the franchise. Other modi operandi include advocacy; fostering bipartisanship in a virtually univocal legislature; and championing, catalyzing, and critically engaging ‘civil society’. Civil society, by the way, is not always so civil when their sacred cows – such as doing one’s civic duty – are sacrificed on the altar. Sorry, dears, any latent faith you may have in the supposedly ‘revived’ democratic process may be illusory or inadequate. But we all live with our failings as much as our frustrations. Just let’s not foster them on – or force them down the throats of – dissenters/rebels with a cause. We have plenty of elected and appointed representatives – and/or their self-appointed and elect ‘representatives’ in turn – to do that for us!
So let me end this rant by asking you, dear civic-minded voter, why it is our civic duty to vote! How can anyone hold us conscientious objectors – and us alone – responsible for the mess we are in? Surely there are other actors (no pun intended) who are responsible (may be more so) for the mess we are in – by design? They are as responsible as those who don’t bother to vote any more… for whatever reason – cynicism; scepticism; laziness; lack of time/interest; being fed up with the waste of time, money, effort; futility of participation in a corrupt and skewered system – are, – by default.
As for me, dears, I’m no longer so easily buying the weary and worn-out platitudes that these old republican virtues (doing one’s civic duty with a stoic apathy in the face of futility) are a must. These are now for me at least simply the soporifics by which we maintain the self-induced illusion that our votes count for something.
At this level, all things being equal, under this present dispensation, I don’t think they do. But I might well change my mind if I don’t get my ballot card next time. For the nonce, however, I passed. Did you, dear?

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