Sunday 23 October 2016

Standing in the way of control: politicians in defeat

Patricia Casey

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

The power of the secret ballot is that it represents, and is, our freedom
The power of the secret ballot is that it represents, and is, our freedom

We Irish have a strange and deeply ambivalent relationship with our politicians. We castigate them, mock them and criticise them on one hand and with the other affectionately refer to them as Enda, Joan, Lucinda, Michael much as we would our slightly eccentric cousins.

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When they come to our door steps canvassing our vote, we have no hesitation in confiding in them that they have our vote, just as when the next hopeful politician shakes our hand on the street we make exactly the same promise. But we the public do not have a monopoly on mistrust and politicians naive to our duplicity.

Their insight into the voting public is not misplaced when they view it as fickle and unpredictable - a mantra I have heard repeated by every commentator since I reached the age of majority. Both we and our political representatives understand the faux promises but we, the voters, have the upper hand in this game because we choose whom we want to represent us.

When we stand in the polling booth, pencil in hand, we can jettison all the guarantees we gave to the canvasser at the front door and put the tick beside the person whom we know in our heart of hearts best represents us. That is the power of the secret ballot - it represents, and is, our freedom and I am proud to use it at every opportunity.

When the final results are declared there can be no recriminations, no punishment and no falling out because nobody knows where you placed your X. Although there is a reciprocal element to the subversiveness between voter and vote seeker, with both making unsustainable promises, I have some sympathy for the plight of the seeker, faced with our wrath and duplicity.

While some 300-plus hundred men and women have declared that they will be seeking election in the next two weeks, the result for most will be a disappointment and disillusion.

Not knowing is always more stressful and disturbing than knowing, and this is true even if the news is bad. Yet many of our politicians subject themselves to the five-yearly routine of putting themselves before us, facing a doubtful future, as they try to convince us of their qualities. For some the exercise is simply a democratic protest about a single issue without any hope of being elected. For others it is a bloodying for a future try, while for the majority of candidates the result is construed as a referendum on what each person has offered in the past and into the future.

And at the count, much like a gladiatorial battle, we sit on the wings from our comfortable armchairs and enjoy the frisson of tension as the surpluses are identified and recounts ordered. It culminates in the vanquished publically thanking their supporters and vowing to fight another day as the cameras hone in on their distressed supporters.

Not surprisingly those who are rejected will feel a huge sense of loss and emptiness. To one day have the honour of being the representative of your people and the next to be rejected as unsuitable cannot but evoke self-doubt and hurt. Others may become embittered and angry, declining any further involvement in politics and withdrawing from public life.

Ordinarily we have time to prepare for major life changes such as retirement. In politics the change is sudden.

There is generally little sympathy for politicians, but they are human beings too with the same needs as most of us and one of those is approval from those we know.

Like us, most do not seek adulation or adoration but they value respect and praise, just the same as you and I, Mary and Joe public, when we do a good job.

The summary rejection by those who once valued our contribution is deeply upsetting. I came across a piece by Joan Geraghty, an unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 Mayo local elections, online. She describes her "walk of shame" onto the stage for the announcement, her feelings of having let herself and her party down, her wish to retreat to the bosom of her family.

She articulated her debilitating pain while trying to feign normality, an upsetting state that went on for weeks. Her story has a happy ending though, as she gradually returned to wholeness and happiness.

Her piece concludes with a lesson in resilience: "I understand now that putting yourself forward is worth the risk of losing because losing teaches you so many lessons. The biggest lesson of all is that you can recover from loss and losing. Despite yourself, the real you will eventually resurface."

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