Stories from Afar & Up Close

I hadn't heard that one before

“When there are elections in Holland, who do you vote for? I mean, why?” asked my slightly inebriated friend.“I usually vote for the party with the best program,” I said, “and then I chose the candidate I prefer.” “Ah yes…” he sighed, “that’s probably how it’s supposed to be right? Well, maybe we’ll get there in a hundred years….”

I’m playing a game of trying to find out which candidates people are going to vote for. This is not a neutral question, so most will not volunteer this information, and I have to throw in a bit of the ‘clueless foreigner-thing’ to get my answers. I usually start by asking where they will vote. The country is divided into districts, and you can only vote for the candidates from your district. Then I ask what their options are, and if they have made their choice yet.

Many of my friends vote in the third district of Beirut, which means they have to chose 10 people out of a total of 41: five Sunni seats, one Orthodox, one Druze, one Shia, one Anglican and one Minority. Some will chose one or two candidates they can get behind and leave the rest of the ballot empty, but most of them are utterly disgusted with the choice they have and say they will drop a white ballot in the box, or not vote at all; to them, the difference between candidates from the ‘majority’ and ‘opposition’ is negligible.

There are also many people who have to go to their (grand-)parents’ village because they are registered to vote there, like a friend of mine who is supposed to go to Bint Jbeil to cast her ballot. She will not go, however. Knowing that the ballots in the South often come with even less variation than those in Beirut, I was wondering if the lack of choice was preventing her from voting, but that wasn’t the case. She told me: “We don’t vote unless we know the candidate really, really well. Imagine you vote for someone who is going to stay for four years, and in that time he does something that’s bad for the people – what would you say to God? How would you answer the question why you chose him when you get to heaven?” Now that’s taking voter-responsibility to a whole new level…