Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Vote, Do Not Boycott The Ballot!

Not voting allows bad politicians to continue

Ngaranmi Shimray 

In a democracy, regardless of how disillusioned people are with politicians and the government, voters need to go out and vote to exercise their rights.
It is not uncommon for voters deciding not to vote out of apathy, disillusionment, disgust or protest. Not voting is one way of ensuring that the bad politicians are simply rewarded for their bad behaviours.
This time, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum has urged members of the Kuki-Zomi community not to contest the Lok Sabha election. It seems like the Kuki-Zomi community has fallen in line with the advice and no one from their community is contesting from the outer Manipur constituency.
In addition, the community is boycotting the parliamentary election in Manipur. When it comes to being politically involved via the ballot box, many voters become generally apathetic. Some people turn to protest or boycott to display their discontentment, disillusionment and anger with governance issues, which they consider important for the community. It could be discontentment on account of backwardness, poverty and poor delivery of services. This may be true for the Naga tribes of eastern Nagaland.
However, the Kuki-Zomi tribes are still part of Manipur and have a sizeable presence in few districts. But they seemed to have lost their voice to air their grievances to the State and the Union Government. They have been displaced/kicked out violently from Imphal and are being deprived from participating in all activities of the Government. No Kuki-Zomi person can step foot into Imphal, and as a result, they no longer participate in legislative proceedings, or any other matters related to the administration and judiciary in the capital city. It has been almost a year into the ethnic conflict with no headway as far as reconciliation to bring peace and normalcy is concerned.
The prolonged conflict and the community’s banishment from the State capital has made them helpless, compelling them to decide to show their unhappiness and disillusionment with the State Government and the Central leadership by staying away from contesting elections. Now, they have boycotted it, as an expression of dissent. This has created a huge void for the seat of the outer parliamentary constituency in the upcoming election. A missing catalyst. Elections in the outer Manipur constituency have always been contested on tribal lines between the Naga and Kuki tribes. The catalyst is missing this time as there is no Kuki-Zomi candidate participating in the polls. It will entirely be a Naga affair between 3 Naga tribes: Tangkhuls, Poumai and Zeliangrong.
Despite the boycott call, uncertainty still prevails as some of them may not support the boycott call and cast their votes, which may not be consequential. But the possibility of the Kuki-Zomi voters deciding to throw their weight behind a political party or a candidate cannot be ruled out. This could happen at the eleventh hour as a last-minute decision.
An unpredictable factor that has always been present in the outer parliamentary reserved constituency of Manipur is the voters of the 8 State Assembly constituencies of the valley, namely Jiribam, Kakching, Sugnu, Wabagai, Hiyanglam, Wangjing-Tentha, Heirok and Khangabok. They represent about one-third of the total voters of the outer Manipur parliamentary constituency. These areas are inhabited mainly by Meitei and Muslim communities, who are not Scheduled Tribes (ST), and therefore, cannot contest in the ST reserved parliamentary seat. They can only cast their votes.
The voters from these 8 Assembly constituencies share no common interest with the “Hill Areas” of Manipur and their voting pattern is unpredictable. They are more likely to be swayed by political party affiliation rather than the credentials of the candidates.
Interestingly, the voting percentages of the valley voters have always been high and never dismally low, making their votes a deciding factor if it is a straight contest between a Naga and a Kuki candidate. How the valley voters in the outer constituency behave would be more difficult to predict this time as all the choices are from the Naga candidates.
Not voting or boycotting the upcoming parliamentary election for 2 seats in Manipur (Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur constituencies) would amount to endorsement of the status quo – leaving things just as they are. Not voting usually happens if there is no anti-incumbency with voters preferring the status quo. If people do not vote, they miss an opportunity to bring democratic change.
However, in a democracy, regardless of how disillusioned people are with politicians and the government, voters need to go out and vote to exercise their rights.
Not voting would be detrimental to the interest of the voter. By not voting, voters accept and signal that they are happy with the prevailing politics and government’s performance. An individual voting may feel that her single vote may not make a difference, but remember that by adding up all the votes of those who abstain from voting can swing an entire election and bring about the much needed change.
Not voting ensures that the bad politicians are rewarded for their bad behaviours. Being ambivalent and complacent in exercising a person’s right to vote does have consequences. A democracy cannot be sustained without active participation in voting for ensuring appropriate change in leadership to take the state forward. Thus, lack of participation in a democratic process will be a disservice to the State.
Voters should know that even if they do not endorse any single party’s values and policies, it is worth investing time to identify a political party whose policies and programmes are most closely aligned with the voters’ aspirations and demands.
If this still doesn’t motivate a voter to support a party, it would be prudent to at least consider using one’s vote strategically to reduce a party’s dominance or encourage change. But whatever a person as a voter may do, please do not abstain from voting. Make your vote count, as an overwhelming margin of victory can send a strong message to Parliament that the victorious candidate has the mandate of the people. Your vote can make a difference. Let’s vote!
The writer is a New Delhi-based social activist and tweets @Aran Shimray.
Solicit feedback: Shimray2011@Gmail.Com