Democracy? Meh.

Police club a supporter of Colonel Kizza Besigye, leader of Uganda’s opposition party, in this photo taken prior to a Ugandan election, a photo contrasting the choice and freedom when voting in a place like Ontario. (James Akena photo)

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, June 2, 2018)

It was the other day, an ordinary day, a Saturday, when I voted. It was something. Really something.

From my front door I walked to my advance polling station. Nobody harassed me on the way. I was met with kind greetings and smiles. Nobody had a gun. I didn’t even have my voter’s card, but a single piece of ID showed that I was qualified and worthy to vote for a candidate of my own choosing. I did it. I marked my X.

I looked around at the people in that office. Nobody looked like they’d run off with any ballots. Or stuff ballot boxes. Or disqualify my vote for no good reason. Or lose (ha-ha) my ballot. It was like I’d won the lottery. The freedom. The choice.

I was dressed up. Had a formal jacket and leather shoes. I rarely do, especially on a warm spring day. But I’d just been at a men’s breakfast and had given the official “thank you” to the guest speaker, a local federal parliamentarian.

He talked about how to influence government. About consensus building and relationships. His spirit was full of service. He quoted Churchill: “The longer I live, the more I see God working in human affairs.” He asked people to pray for him, to pray for politicians in general. This too was something.

So, yes, thank you. Thank you Ontario. Such a fine day it was to dress up and vote, even while thinking about the rest of the world.

Democracy, if you didn’t know, is growing worldwide. About half of the world’s 7.6 billion people can now vote for their rulers. In the 1940s, just one in ten people had that freedom. Until the fall of communism, autocracy was the world’s leading political system.

But only about five in every 100 people on the planet enjoy a full democracy. Most, about 45 in 100, live in a hybrid regime. Think Russia. Another 17 in 100 people live under an authoritative regime like, say, China or North Korea. The rest, 33 in every 100, live in a so-called flawed democracy.

Strange enough, several of these are western nations. The US is currently considered a flawed democracy. France and Italy, also. Further, a growing number of citizens in western nations, once democracy’s vanguards, don’t care much. There’s a shrug of the shoulder. This is what the global surveys show. We’re living in the big “meh.” And the danger of that.

Of course, no political system is perfect. People are, you know, so human. But while in a democracy the votes of the vicious and the stupid count, under any other system they might be running the show.

Yes, buffoonery and evil, when nobody is looking, can easily take the house. It’s Nazi Germany. It’s why 40 years after his bloody reign, Idi Amin is still mentioned by people asking me about my years in Uganda.

In Canada, by the way, Ontarians are the ones shrugging their shoulders. Since my own birth in 1965 to the last provincial vote in 2014, Ontario averaged 60 per cent voter turnout. That ranks a lowly ninth out of provinces and territories. Meh. Saskatchewan ranks highest, at 83 per cent. Quebec and the Maritime provinces, especially PEI, also rank high.

My son walked with me. He watched me vote. At one point he asked, “Do we still have responsible government?” The political term is from his school studies of Canada’s early parliament in Upper Canada. I laughed. “Some governments are more responsible than others.”

I suppose it’s a sense of connection that we want more than anything. To know that we’re not being ignored, that these people in office are in it for us, the electorate, not to build their own fiefdom. Their own kingdom.

We stopped for ice-cream. I told my son I hope he never forgets our travel experiences, what we’ve learned by getting out here and there. I hope I never forget. How could we?

But it’s true, for sure. The lottery. That’s what you’ve won if you’re reading this, if you’re living in Ontario. It’s something to think about.

Of course, you can always throw your winning ticket in the trash. Don’t be bothered by any of it. But that’s when the lunatics can take the asylum.

14 Comments

  1. Marvin R Brubacher June 5, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Great article, Thomas. Keep probing our minds with truth and reality. I hope you are well and adjusting back to Canada.

  2. Marcel Kamutzki June 5, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for the perspective and the reminder to appreciate our good fortune.

  3. A. Dempsey June 5, 2018 at 11:35 am

    Thank you so much! A very powerful insight! I will remember it as I walk up to Lowville United Church on Thursday to vote. Greeting many we know in our neighbourhood!
    I have won the lottery!

  4. Thomas Froese June 5, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for the words, Marvin. Yes, we’re adjusting. Soon we’ll be through a cycle of four full seasons in Canada, our first ever, and that will be good. Be well.

  5. Thomas Froese June 5, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    You are welcome, Marcel. Yes, good fortune, indeed.

  6. Thomas Froese June 5, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    You’re welcome. Enjoy your voting moment. There’s always something satisfying about walking to a church to vote — a reflection of two types of freedom that aren’t so different from each other.

  7. Peter Durksen June 5, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you so much, Thomas, for the article.
    As my father, who grew up in the early years of the communist government in his birth country used to say to me,
    “Be thankful that you live in Canada, its a free country”

  8. Patty June 7, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Sadly, democracy in the USA is flawed more than I’ve seen it in my lifetime. Our current President is an embarrassment, to say the least. When I voted in Ohio’s primary in May, I was one of only 21% of our state’s registered voters at the polls. In some countries, like New Zealand, you pay a fine if you don’t vote. That we still demonstrate against injustice in the United States is one example, however, that the heartbeat of freedom is still here. While we have federal top leadership turning a blind eye to equality and humanity, it is my prayer that this heartbeat gains strength.

  9. Thomas Froese June 19, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Indeed, we can be thankful for many things. Thanks Peter.

  10. Thomas Froese June 19, 2018 at 9:20 am

    North of the border, Patty, we’re witnessing things from this perspective. Some disturbing things, for sure.

  11. David Kitz July 3, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Great post Thomas. Having just returned from Athens where I interviewed refugees from the Erdogan regime. I found your thoughts very pertinent.

  12. Thomas Froese July 12, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Thanks David – For sure, we are luckier here than we realize, until we travel.

  13. Asa Ahimbisibwe October 1, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Thank you Thom.
    This year June, i also went out and cast my vote the very first day the advance voting were opened.
    One could not imagine, having cast my votes previously in Uganda, the joy and freedom I felt, simply, because my vote would count! This time around!
    Asa

  14. Thomas Froese October 7, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Thanks Asa, for the reminder. Joy and freedom.

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