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.