To Vote, or Not to Vote?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the issue of voting rights for citizens living abroad. Most countries do give citizens abroad a vote, but a small handful of countries are not willing to give a voice to citizens who live outside of the country. My own birth country, South Africa, is among those few. However, South Africa recently took a turn on this policy, and opened up the prospect of letting me and my family (in California) vote in the elections this year. The Pretoria High Court reportedly ruled on February 9 that citizens living overseas should be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections, which will most likely lead to a postponement of the election date so that appropriate laws can be passed by the Constitutional Court to instate the new rule.

    I was quite excited about this new development. For quite some time, I have felt somewhat unsettled about not being able to voice my opinion in an election – either in my birth country or my current country. I haven’t been old enough to vote in an election in South Africa, and in the upcoming election I had previously assumed that I would not be allowed to. And now I may have the chance. Yet I feel somewhat hesitant to cast a ballot for a president who isn’t really going to be my president. This is where I hit a small snag in my excitement. I realized that it doesn’t make sense for me to vote in an election that a) I know very little about because I’m not receiving media coverage every day and b) the change in administration will not directly affect my everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that if citizens are given the right to vote, then they should take advantage of that opportunity regardless of how inconvenient it is to actually pay attention to the issues and fill out a ballot. But I am not completely convinced that I should vote for changes in a country that I do not intend to ever live in again.

    Much of my vacillation in this situation stems from the likelihood of a major shifts in the administrative majority should votes be opened up to the South Africans living abroad. Newsweek and the Economist have addressed the issue of the ‘white flight’ that is contributing to South Africa’s brain drain. The fact is that a vast majority of the South African citizens abroad are white and, consequently or not, disinclined to vote for the ANC, which, let’s face it, has seriously gone downhill since Nelson Mandela left office. Now, in my opinion, a drastic departure from the current administration would be a wonderful thing, but my biggest question is, do I, and the rest of the citizens abroad, have the right to make that decision for the South Africans who actually will be feeling the changes in their every day lives? I feel that the change would be good, but if it’s not what they want, then should I still push for it? I know that as an international community we all have the responsibility to look out for one another, but the truth is that I would find it unfair if someone living in South Africa voted to change things in the country that I live in. So which is right? Vote for what I believe is best for a country that really isn’t mine anymore? Or sit back and let South Africans decide for themselves, even if I think they’re going the wrong way?

Check out the news network link to the Newsweek article on South Africa’s “white flight”:


suzanne o.
suzanne o8 years ago

i wish the overseas guys can vote, because in a place like south africa - every bit of help is needed & a matter of life & death .
that's why i think like this - because the good people who leave on moral grounds - their vote & suggestions would be a great asset & life-saver, to say the least.
& - there should exist solo independents in a system - any honest people can be the transcendant , angelic friends who , although small in numbers, can have higher say ( only if truly good & honest , etc , or hermits non-corrupt ).
cape town

melanie m.
melanie m8 years ago

I don't think it would be ethical at all to vote in a country you will never again be citizen of. I find it to be selfish, and inconsiderate....seeing as how the end result of the election won't even affect you. Take care in this decision; despite my own feelings, I can certainly understand why you'd be uncertain, and feel the way you do - regardless of your current country of residence, your country of origin will always be a huge part of who you are. Perhaps you need to examine yourself and your motivation here, it is important to understand why you feel the way you do, to be sure you are not desiring to participate in these elections for the wrong reasons.

Natasha G.
Natasha G8 years ago

Great post, Gretha. It's definitely an interesting question. Your perception of your country definitely modifies once becoming an ex-pat.
My mother's a Mexican ex-pat and she wasn't very interested in Mexican politics until she moved out of the country. (Also, it helped that the government went through very drastic changes once she left.)
I think the majority of people want the same basic things for their country -- peace, stability, and access to basic needs -- but we have different ideas of what will work best. It would be great to hear an update from you later on what you decide to do and how the election turns out.

Evelyn Bazalgette
Evelyn B8 years ago

I wish I had the right to vote in my country of residence - I can vote for the municipal council, but nothing "higher" than that ....It is relatively recently that I've even had this right, and believe me, I value it! I can vote in European elections, at least ... but I can't vote for the head of State in either my country of residence (despite paying all taxes, charges etc) nor in the country of origin. I would prefer to be able to vote where I live - I know the politics and the people better. I don't feel equipped to vote in my country of origin; why should I, who pay no taxes there, contribute nothing to society there, vote there? But I hate having NO voice anywhere!

JulieAnn Zserdin
JULIE ANN Z8 years ago

I believe if you are a citizen of a country but dont live there you should be able to vote in elections. But even if your born in a country, if you take the citizenship of a different country than you shouldnt be able to vote in your birth country anymore than anyone else is allowd to do. But, if you have no intention of ever moving back to your birth country, I dont know why you would vote anyway. It is rather unfair that your vote counts when you are not going to live in that country.

Poet Dancer
Poet Dancer8 years ago

Very interesting question. I am in a similar boat as you are, never voted and never qualified to vote in any other country that I lived in for years.
You did turn the table around very nicely by saying 'how would you feel if someone from outside (your residence) would tell you how things should/could be done. Perhaps you like to write to one of the major Newspapers in your (birth) country and voice your opinion there. It might bring a change, or at least create an awareness.
Never give up hope :)