Voting for the Common Good – Chris Bain speaks for the poorest

CAFOD director Chris Bain explains why, wherever we put our cross on the ballot paper this election, we must look for a vision of a future based on the common good. Last week an army officer spoke on BBC radio about the UK elections. On behalf of fellow soldiers serving in Afghanistan he told how devastating it would be if once again voter turnout showed the British public to be politically apathetic. He explained that to be “fighting hard” against those who repress the human rights we take for granted and then see a lack of interest in those rights at home, would be a devastating blow to the morale of his troops.

Regardless of whether one supports or questions the continued presence of British troops in Afghanistan, or other parts of the world, the point is worth reflecting upon. This officer was not giving advice on who to vote for, but was urging us all to see as precious the voting rights we have, and that millions of citizens around the world are still fighting to gain. In not acting upon that right, we, at best, disrespect those who risk everything to bring about the germination or flourishing of democracy.

Upholding democracy

At the heart of the common good is the understanding that all are responsible for all, not only as individuals, but collectively at every level.

This year sees elections, not only in the UK, but in many countries in the developing world. The results of the Sudan election are already being disputed, while ballot preparations are ongoing across many other African countries including Rwanda, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Sri Lanka’s presidential elections in January led to calls for electoral reform, and Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines and Burma all go to the polls in the coming months.

These elections have in the majority of countries been hard won and the violence, protest and coercion that sometimes accompany the right to vote are testimony to how vital this system is to equality and justice. New and fledgling democracies are brittle and fragile. Through our partners worldwide, we continue to uphold and support enfranchisement in general, and of the poorest in particular.

Sudan went to the polls a fortnight ago for the country’s first multi-party national election in a quarter of a century. Following 20 years of devastating civil war between northern and southern Sudan, that left two million dead and four million homeless, the majority of people from the southern regions were voting for the very first time. Sudanese citizens faced a complicated process of up to 12 different ballots to elect national and regional executives and legislators, yet more than 75 per cent of the population in southern Sudan cannot read or write. And with the country being Africa’s largest, access to information was vital to election participation.

The Sudan Catholic Radio Network worked all-out to address this challenge. These community radio stations, in partnership with CAFOD, broadcast election information across seven dioceses in southern Sudan for up to nine hours each day.The programmes addressed voter education, offered impartial news and promoted peaceful polls. As one listener, carpenter Thomas Wiri from the remote town of Ikotos, told CAFOD: “Without education things cannot stand right.” (http://www.cafod.org.uk/news/election-2010-04-26)

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