On Why Voting Is Still Important

During the recent Municipal elections I think some people misunderstood my intentions when it came to voting. This is based on comments, emails and remarks I received online and offline. I was planning on writing this post long before all that but I figured I’d take the opportunity and kill two birds with one post.

The elections were pretty bad. This isn’t a confession or anything, this is something I knew going in to it all. I am told I have a very cynical outlook when it comes to certain things in Jordan and that’s very true, but it’s also what keeps me sane. My expectations are always met and rarely am I pleasantly surprised. I don’t have to set the bar low because the government usually helps me out on that by setting it for themselves (and still failing to meet it). One example was the government’s promise to provide wheelchair accessibility and failing to do so at all. That’s just one example of how reading about the promise a week earlier I knew off the bat that this was pretty much not going to happen. I should mention that despite my short run cynicism I usually have a more optimistic view of the future, which is another way of staying sane.

From dumb fights, to dumb boycotts, to likely corruption, the elections were altogether pretty bad and it made the country look bad on the international stage (international reports to come).

Maybe it was because we’ve been out of practice? (that’s a joke)

But like I said my expectations were low. I say this because I know as a Jordanian there is nothing substantial here. There is no democracy, there is no mechanism or system to sustain a democracy. There are no real platforms, choices or alternatives to what is conventional, to what is current. There are appointments from the monarch and then there are tribes voting for family members. That’s it. And no Jordanian is fooled by this. So there’s really nothing of consequence here.

Hence the obvious question: why should I care that everyone go out and vote?

I’ll tell you why.

I remember being 6 years old in Canada and being led with the rest of my class around the block to a small isolated traffic light where we were taught to look both ways and respect the rules of the road. This exercise in standard social behavior was practiced for nearly a week before going on to other basics like not throwing trash on the ground. So I can’t help but laugh when I see a pedestrian in Jordan cross a very busy intersection without looking or even pausing a bit before choosing the exact moment the light turns green to cross. And when you nearly hit him he’ll give you the “are you insane?” look.

Suffice to say that in Jordan we rarely pay attention to the importance of embedding certain cultural ideals in our children.

What I’m saying here is that in the absence of a democratic system, in the absence of a truly representative democratic environment, there is a culture to consider. There are social paradigms that need to be shifted and a culture of democratic values that needs to be instilled in everyone under the age of 30.

Today more than any time in our history, a new generation is emerging in Jordan where over half the population is young. Over half. In other words in any free election the electorate should be predominantly made up of young 20-something year olds.

My greatest fear is not that they vote for Islamists or that they vote for tribal/family members or even their friends. My greatest fear is that these voters stay home on election day. That they too are rendered apathetic when realizing that there are no practical consequences.

My concern here is not with the outcome of an election, not with the consequences of parties or inactions of elected representatives; my concern is with apathy. My concern is with building and fostering a culture of voting. The same culture that allows those my age to be more active in politics. To increase awareness. To display a willingness to stray from traditional norms. To begin paying attention to political platforms. To hold representatives accountable.

That’s the domino effect.

My concern is not with the macro but with the micro. My concern is with the things that we as individuals and as a society, have some control over. We can’t decide the mechanics of the current system. We can’t get political parties to merge or to offer anything close to a platform. And we can’t protect such a system from corruption no more so than being able to teach everyone how to cross a road. But we can control the culture, we can control what we teach our own children.

I am as confused as anyone when it comes to the intentions of the regime with regards to elections. Some times I feel it is window dressing for the international community. Some times I feel it’s an actual desire for political reform. And despite what many claim to think or know, no one really knows, the mixed signals are too overwhelming.

But it doesn’t matter what the intentions are, because as long as there are elections then minds are changing. And with that emerges another generation that will not only demand democracy but insist on it. That is the only real consequence here.

In other words, when the doors for elections swing open it doesn’t matter what the intentions are in the short run because in the long run they will always have the effect of creating a culture of voting and a culture of democracy.

That alone: having democratic values reflected at the core of the citizenry, is what I think gives birth to any true democracy. This is also substantiated by having a free media, which is something we have to work on extensively and I’m currently writing a post on that.

But until then, this is why I think voting is still important.


  • salam alikm
    I do agree on some of what you have said, we are really strange combination..
    Things are vague… so many signals.
    Some times I feel hopeless because of irrational behaviors around me, trashing, jaywalking, and many others small yet provoking acts!
    But yet I believe that under this façade there must be a good core. You, I and many others who feels the same will raise many good values in our children
    Cursing the dark wont lit a candle; we must unite that’s all what I’m saying

  • first off, I didn’t go vote and am not going to vote in the near future.
    It is great to instill the values of participatory democracy and polling the vote in children since that will foster the spirit of it, but reality is that every democracy is plagued with apathy due to the fact of their frustrations of the representatives turning back on their promises (expect in certain european countries eg. france, germany)

    Now the difference in my opinion is the activism in those countries the power of the unions the need for the people to voice their verdicts and the ability to have oversight on the actions of the government.

    Why is it counter intuitive to vote in our elections ?
    if i vote i am encouraging the current behavior and in a way i am approving of it, when all that matters to candidates is to have their name on a poster instead of what they aim to achieve. for the few that do say they end up talking more about what they achieved in the past. the actual jurisdictions not being laid out clearly & nepotism being the only reason to vote !

    economically speaking it is not feasible to vote in any system since a single vote makes a little difference, and especially when there is a culture of staunch rejection of even the appointment of certain officials due to their background and not their qualifications seals the deal. (nevermind the last minute laws that reduce the possibility of those type of people actually making it, even with the near extinct participation from people of that sector of society)

    So all in all it is pointless, that faux democracy doesn’t need to be headed much attention at all.

    when you teach someone a system and an ideal, and they see that this ideal actually impedes their progress compared to what every body else in doing is not going to give much positive enforcement to that behavior, now they might believe that the ideal is righteous but soon they will learn that is not practical and they will abandon its use. now doing it for the sake of doing is fine, but it will garner little effect in my humble opinion.

    ENJOY !

  • “if i vote i am encouraging the current behavior and in a way i am approving of it”

    I disagree. People’s intentions when voting can be exclusive of the candidates intentions of running. They do not have to go hand in hand. And in a system where there are no real tangible consequences to voting, there may never BE a better time to practice the art of voting and building that culture.

    “when you teach someone a system and an ideal…”

    I am talking about practicing democracy in the absence of such a system. And the political effect your looking for is obviously not going to happen as both you and I have pointed out. The point is not to vote for the sake of having an actual political effect, but by merely exercising the action of voting we are inadvertently creating a culture.

  • Nas…
    “there may never BE a better time to practice the art of voting and building that culture.”

    thats usually what you instill in a culture at the school, university & social level. we are not talking about a practice run here, we are talking about politicians supposedly -_-‘

    your second point actually made me realize something that might be relevant. is it that once you believe that your vote holds a certain power and when that power is reduced to rubble do u keep on going on the principle or do u lose the impetus to participate, but i on the other hand in an environment with little exposure to voting beyond the tribal backed bill does really help create the culture as you say.
    if you can provide some examples of that you would have won me over i think 😉

Your Two Piasters: