(Editorial cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne)

Opinion

BUCHOLTZ: The power of democracy is exemplified elsewhere

If democracy is resilient and powerful in Sierra Leone, it most certainly can be the same in Surrey

The shouting is almost over. The signs will be coming down.

Surrey and White Rock voters will elect new councils and a new board of education on Saturday.

It has been a unique civic campaign – there are significant changes to local elections and we are guaranteed two new mayors.

In the campaign period itself, candidates cannot raise or spend money donated by corporations or unions. Given that these two sources have been the major contributors to previous campaigns, this has restricted spending.

Another significant change is the dates. Previous elections were held on the third Saturday in November. The date was moved up one month by the former BC Liberal government. Campaigning essentially began in August – a time when almost no one pays attention to politics. Getting public attention in September and early October has been a challenge, as many are getting back into fall routines.

The issues in this election – transportation, policing and affordable housing at the top of the list – have brought more candidates. This has proved confusing for many voters.

READ ALSO: Why is voter turnout so low for municipal elections?

For those who are overwhelmed and considering not voting, remember this: voters can vote for up to eight councillors in Surrey and six in White Rock, and up to six school trustees in Surrey. Those who choose to vote for just one or two candidates still have their ballots counted.

Democracy is a precious gift. It is messy and confusing, but as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, “it is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

I was able to see that firsthand in Sierra Leone earlier this year. We were in West Africa when a presidential runoff election took place on March 31.

OUR VIEW: Don’t be accurs’d, Surrey – get out and vote!

It was a close race. The incumbent president had tried to run again, but the constitution did not allow it.

His party nominated a well-known minister, and the main opposition party nominated a retired general who had served as the leader of the military junta at a time when Sierra Leone was in the midst of civil war, over 20 years ago.

Despite a number of attempts to disrupt the election process, it went off smoothly. More than 80 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, even though some had to travel for hours to vote.

Results were announced four days later – at about 10 p.m. April 4, there were huge cheers on the streets of the capital city, Freetown. Opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio had won with 51.8 per cent of the vote, and was sworn into office that night. International observers pronounced the process free and fair.

The next day, all was calm and back to normal. This took place in a country that suffered grievously in a civil war that killed tens of thousands.

If democracy can be that resilient and powerful in Sierra Leone, it most certainly can be the same in Surrey and White Rock.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for the Now-Leader. You can e-mail him at frank.bucholtz@gmail.com.



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