lundi 23 mai 2011

Thirsting for Freedom

The serenity with which each of us face our everyday life is always the result of compromise reached between what each of us believe in and seek to achieve and that of the next person’s. One’s beliefs and pursuits have as much merit as the weight with which we measure them against those of other’s. The glass can be half empty, just as much as it can be half full. There is little point is fighting over which version is more truthful.

Thus it was that on Saturday night, the dream of finally quenching my thirst for freedom was once again blighted by the SPPF-PP election –winning steamroller.
Some may argue that mine is a dream not based on the realities of the present-day Seychelles. Some will define the latter as being the place where a government inherited from a 1977-coup d’etat is growing up into a modern and respected democracy while orchestrating considerable local popular appeal, recognised and respected human rights, thriving economy with both local and international investments, including those from petrodollar–rich Gulf States.

Let there be no doubt that there are sufficient numbers of my fellow countrymen who either fully believe that this is indeed the case or who have never been particularly concerned over the intricacies and complexities of democracy, human rights and the economy, as long as there is always food on the table, clothes on one’s back and a house to shelter from the storm!

The last three consecutive elections of the Seychelles’ 2nd Republic from 1993 are eloquent on the consistently 50%+ support granted to the SPPF-PP, former One Party State, government. The ballot boxes of Saturday 21st May 2011 did not falter from yet another confirmation in both popular support and endorsement of the government’s populist social and economic development programs. 55.43% is as decisive as any electoral victory one can get in any democracy!!.

What’s the use of cursing the majority of the Seychellois voters’ vulnerability to pre-election generous gifts and honeyed, vote-winning campaign propaganda. In this they are no different from other voters across all continents, regardless of how deep democracy is rooted, respected and upheld.

What we should perhaps curse is our inability to cut across the academic rhetoric of our campaign for democracy to link it directly to the voters’ real and daily concerns. To do this, we need to find a way to educate the voters on how we have been and continue to be walled in by the nation’s pervasive dependence on state- benevolence, with far ranging impact from our jobs, formal training, social welfare, housing assistance, extra medical care, business facilitation, service infrastructure to our leisure, sports and cultural development.
These daily practical considerations far outweigh the merit of taking a moral high ground, particularly in defence of the often elusive extravagance of rights and freedoms.
We need to succeed in persuading the voters that the time will come when we will each need to weigh the importance of democracy, rights, freedom, equality before the law, equal opportunities for all, responsible parliament, independent judiciary and accountable, transparent government, that define the long term basic quality of our everyday lives against the immediate impact of material favours that make us see one day through to the next.

This is indeed what has driven revolutions throughout history and perhaps to a great extent, is the galvanising force behind the ongoing events in the Arab world. The thirst for freedom cannot be quenched from the well of immediate and short-term material comforts.

The voters must be educated to fully understand that the nail driven into the coffin of our rights and freedoms is real and occurring everyday, in big and small moves.
It is doing so, each time that the state apparatus of security clearance turns some of us away from a job opportunity, career advancement, promotion, training. A security clearance that departs from seeking to establish the threat level that may be posed on a known and declared reasonable need of state security, to embark on an evaluation of one’s adherence to a certain political party and ideology.

It does so when political affiliation is a discriminatory tool used in everything from a favourable administrative outcome for social assistance, some sensitive town and country planning matter, to a licence or business venture.

It does so when we continue to allow fear to rule our lives, in part from our not having forgotten the killings, disappearances, arson, criminal frame-ups and forced exiles upon which the present government built the foundation of its modern fortress.

The same is achieved at each time each of us shrugs off reports of State transgressions in upholding the rule of law, transparent and accountable government by consistent disregard to review the Public Order Act from the One-party era, endorsement of obvious political discrimination by the police and state security forces, failure to manage public assets in transparent transactions, or from taking decisive actions to root out corruption in the public service, etc.

It does the same when we fail to weigh the import of actions and declarations, however small or big these can be, by those who are entrusted with the highest office and duty to safeguard our democracy, rights and freedoms. It is, for example, a testimony to how disrespectful the Speaker of Parliament can be to the values, and by extention, how undeserving he is, of his office, when he makes a public declaration that the political opposition must be eliminated!!

It does so when we remain indifferent to our public-funded daily newspaper blatantly flouting the basic principles of impartial journalism by consecrating a special page of each publication to the President.
It does so when we fail to recognise that receiving some crumbs from the national cake, is part of our rightful claim rather than being something for which we should be thankful.
It does so when we remain silent at the slow and insidious erosion of the dignity of our elders by state largesse that is always vocal on its material worth and silent on its moral merit.

The quality of our lives will never change, unless we can each see beyond, and turn away from, the pre-election gifts and honey.
It will never change as long as the electorate continue to be easily swayed by promises of more shared wealth and material comforts and remain unfazed by speeches on freedom and liberty.
A new Seychelles has been promised. It will not be one based on the strengthening of freedom, liberty and rights. It will be another 5-year extention of the patronising one derived from “remaining close to the people…..and working hard for them….a vision to build a new Seychelles…”
Beyond the obvious rhetoric tones, perhaps we should recognise that if nothing much will change, then at least our wounds will heal and will have made us stronger for the next bout. By then, we will perhaps have developed a strategy to bring down the panem et circenses Election-Winning Machine of the SPPF-PP.

This will perhaps include having an Electoral Commission as opposed to the current one-man Election Commissioner, whatever his merit and the level of his integrity, appointed by the president, and Election officers who remain members of the public service and therefore subject to the whims and caprices of that Administration.

The new strategy will perhaps also include a credible voters’ register that will have debunked all attempts for a person, under various guises, to be recorded as an eligible voter in different voting centres, and other attempts to surreptitiously arrange for voters to be transferred from one voting centre to the next depending on the strength of a given contender in one or the other district.
In this regard, it may be necessary to secure a viable means by which the actual district population can be established, and arrange for a formal and verifiable mechanism allowing easy record of changes in the district population database (births, deaths, migration) and from which the district voter register will be derived. As it is, the current voter increase in certain districts from 2002 (51730 votes cast) to 2011 (59242 votes cast) defies the logic of the national (7512) 14.5% average: Anse Etoile (60.7%), Baie Lazare (32.8%), Beau Vallon (35.4%), Glacis (68.4%), Pointe Larue (40.6%), Roche Caiman (28.8%), Bel Air (–6.3%), Grand Anse Praslin (-4.7%) Port Glaud (-5.4%) St Louis (-0.8%)

More importantly, it shall also perhaps be the marking moment when our democracy and electoral set-up will have started to be transparent and trustworthy enough to be spared the scrutiny and judgement of foreign observers.

In the short-term, let us be prepared for the griping and moaning from post-election social and economic burdens that will surely repeat themselves.
As a true democrats, I for one, must be resigned to recognise that 55.43% of my fellow countrymen apparently do not share my views. I must therefore join the ranks of the 44% to respect the verdict from the ballot boxes, however warped and a perversion of my definition of democracy, it may be!

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