Bishops: What Catholics Must Know Before Voting
The exercise of the right to vote is a sacred duty, and the Church expects voters to make sound moral judgments based on the truths and tenets of our faith, according to Bishop Victor Phalana.
As South Africa gears up to vote in the general and provincial elections on May 8, Catholics must be prepared to make sound moral judgments, rooted in discernment and prayer, according to the bishop who heads the SACBC Justice & Peace Commission.
“The exercise of the right to vote is a sacred duty. The Church expects voters to make sound moral judgments based on the truths and tenets of our faith,” said Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp.
“Remember that responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your discernment on who to vote for. Pray that God may raise up great candidates for our country,” Bishop Phalana said in a voter education pamphlet published by the Justice & Peace Commission, the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office and the Jesuit Institute.
The pamphlet offers points to remember about voting, which are reproduced verbatim below. The publishers hope that these points will be disseminated widely in parishes and communities.
Your vote is secret
No matter what anyone says, nobody will ever know who you voted for. You do not put your name or your ID number on the voting paper, so it cannot be linked to you.
This means you can vote for whichever party you like, without worrying that you will lose your grant or your place on a housing list.
Don’t let anyone buy your vote
Be careful of parties that promise you something if you attend their events, or wear their T-shirts, or vote for them. Selling your support in this way will not help you.
It is better to give your vote freely to the party which you think will do the best job running the country.
You can split your vote
You have two votes: one for the national parliament, and one for the province that you live in. You don’t have to vote for the same party in both cases—you can vote for one party on the national ballot, and a different one on the provincial paper.
Think about which party to vote for
Be careful about promises. At election time politicians like to make big promises—about creating jobs, ending poverty, getting rid of corruption, and so on.
It is easy to promise these things, but much more difficult to make them happen. Ask yourself if these promises are meant honestly, or if they are just a way of capturing your vote.
Look at who is on the party lists
We vote for parties, but the parties send individuals to Parliament to be our MPs.
Who are these people? You can find out who they are by looking at the lists published by the IEC on its website (www.elections.org.za). If you find the names of people who have been shown to be corrupt or incompetent, be careful about giving that party your vote.
Understand their policies
Some parties have good speakers; others can organise inspiring rallies. But when the speeches and the rallies are over, can they actually govern the country?
Do they have good, sensible policies? And do they know how to put these policies into practice?
There are many important issues. The economy is important. The land issue must be addressed. Poverty and inequality affect millions of our people. Corruption needs to be tackled; so does violent crime. Human rights and freedoms, especially the right to life, are crucial.
We should not just pick one of these as the most important “single issue”.
Which party do you think has the best approach to dealing with as many of these questions as possible?
A spiritual preparation for voting
- Come to the decision with openness to where God may lead you. Don’t decide in advance or just vote for a party because you always have done so in the past.
- Gather information by reading and asking questions of the parties you are considering voting for.
- Consider which party seems to be thinking and acting most closely to the values of Jesus and the teachings of our faith community.
- Ask which party is most likely to serve the common good—not just my interests or the interests of a specific group.
- Make a tentative decision and offer it to God in prayer, talk to God about why you have decided this.
- Look for a sense of deep peace—this is a clue that you have discerned well.
The voter education guide was made possible with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The pamphlet will also be inserted in next week’s issue of The Southern Cross.