Don’t write off your local elections

 Sign marking a voting station in Cape Town, South Africa (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Parliamentary and presidential elections seem to get all of the attention, while local and municipal government contests are notorious for their low voter turnout. Yet it’s the local authorities who play a much greater role in your day-to-day life and around your neighborhood.

As various countries around Africa hold local and state-level elections, will voters stay away? Here are some things they might want to consider:

  • Are you satisfied with the quality and reliability of public utilities like water, sewage, electricity and gas?
  • How are the schools where you live? Are there enough teachers and resources? Are they provided with enough funding?
  • How are the local roads and traffic? Are unrepaired potholes damaging cars? Is it easy to get to work on time?
  • With cities experiencing rapid growth, are good decisions being made about new housing and commercial developments?
  • Are buses or other forms of public transportation reliable and affordable?
  • Does your community have adequate libraries or public meeting spaces?

Local officials, including mayors, village councils and ward chiefs, are seeking your vote, and elections are the time to hold them accountable by rewarding them for positive impacts they have made on daily life, or else replacing them with candidates who could do a better job. They make the decisions and often hold the purse strings. A good local official is one who knows that, with the limited resources under their control, the community will prosper more from a large development project that could bring jobs, or if there is a more urgent need to address failing public services.

The #YALIVotes campaign isn’t just to bring attention to what is happening on the national scene. If citizens are going to use their vote and the democratic process to improve where they live, their best near-term prospects are through their local government. Learn more by following the lesson on engaging with candidates and elected officials that’s part of the YALI Network Online Course on Understanding Elections and Civic Responsibility.

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