It’s promise season. This week, Jubilee and NASA launched their manifestos, highlighting policy priorities they would implement if elected into office. As such, they are supposed to indicate what the future looks like to help us make an informed choice. Manifestos are an opportunity for political parties to convince us about the differences between them.
For the winning party, the manifesto morphs into a sort of contract with voters and therefore becomes a yardstick against which we measure their success. Little wonder that Jubilee focused on outlining their successes from the 2013 manifesto while NASA accuses them of failing to deliver on promises.
As usual, the manifestos are full of promises. They promise everything they think voters want to hear. But making sense of these documents can be a daunting task. I therefore want to propose a way to help us make sense of them.
I am asking two simple questions: What do these documents tell us about Jubilee and NASA? And, can we believe they will keep their promises? On the first question, I intend to go beyond the laundry lists they have presented and consider what these documents tell us about the philosophy of the political parties. My view is based on three simple arguments.
First, voters don’t really get to choose options within manifestos. In other words, one voter could support the extension of the SGR (Jubilee) and a return to the hybrid system of government (NASA). Secondly, there is nothing new in these documents; we have heard all these things before and many of them are quite similar. Third, most voters will not read these documents.
My view therefore is that even if voters were to rely on the ideas presented to make a choice between the two, it is unlikely their decision would be based on the entire list of promises. They would rely on highly synthesized information in the media about these documents which essentially highlights the fundamental political views of these groups.
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From my reading, so far, we are basically called to choose between two options. NASA is focusing on those who see themselves as socially and economically disenfranchised and promising them a chance to share in what we have. Inclusion and Justice. Jubilee, on the other hand, is reaching out to those who are looking to build a more prosperous future through economic growth. Growth and prosperity. Really, the only difference, I see here is that Jubilee is adopting a more inclusive approach.
That’s the choice. Of course, our choice is influenced by our political socialisation. How and where we were raised and what we have learnt about how the world is and should be organised. This is how identity (e.g ethnicity) becomes or masks a political ideology.
That’s a story for another day. The manifestos provide a language around which to anchor our justification for supporting either side. Moving on to the second pertinent concern: Can we trust these politicians to deliver? My guess: largely. Surprisingly though, the view that politicians do not keep promises is prevalent and persistent across the world despite evidence to the contrary.
A 2009 study by Francois Petry and Benoit Collette found that parties in the developed world on average fulfill 67 per cent of their promises. They argue that the persistence of the negative perceptions of parties is due to bias in media coverage which tends to focus too much on failures than successes. It appears there is little interest in trains that arrive on time. Therein lies the challenge for Jubilee in demonstrating the success.
Chances are they will implement a good number of the promises they make. So the real question here is whether you’d really want to see what your candidate is proposing implemented. If so, go out and vote for them.
– The writer is a researcher and analyst in Nairobi.