MAHATMA Gandhi said: "The authority and power to rule cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within the true will of the people."
That, in essence, captures the democratic value and virtue of the citizen's right to vote in elections that are free and fair, and which enables the people's will to be heard and respected in conditions of dignity and impartiality.
With the exact timing of our imminent 13th general election shrouded in suspense, here are some thoughts on what ELECTIONS are all about:
Equality is at the core of the democratic electoral process. It implies distributive justice, by which every citizen and political party has equal access and right to engage unhindered in the process;
Legitimacy is what distinguishes an election in a democracy on the one hand, and a non-democracy or hybrid regime on the other. It should be the overarching feature of the entire process, from its convening as per the law, to its timely announcement, realistic period to campaign, voter eligibility, clean and public electoral rolls, and its conduct;
Even-handedness ensures that each voter, political party, and candidate is able to participate in the elections without fear or favour, and that all rules and procedures are applied without bias;
Competition denotes tough but decent competitiveness in which rivals are opponents, not enemies -- that is central to democratic values;
Taking time and trouble to know as much as possible about each candidate, their accountability and integrity. All that helps one to vote wisely and carefully, which is more important than voting simply by following another or because of mere affiliation;
Independence of those responsible to convene, conduct and decide on all matters pertaining to elections is vital if the process is to be unquestionably honest and reliable;
Openness or transparency in all aspects of the electoral process is paramount;
Not only should an election be claimed to be free and fair, but it must be seen to be free and fair. And finally:
Sharing the fruits of democracy begins with getting the process of elections right, so that the decision-makers we elect are the ones who will ensure that rights and responsibilities, benefits and opportunities go hand in hand and are shared equitably.
In the final analysis, how well a democracy functions and how it enables people's participation, the legitimacy of competition and the real test of serving its citizens responsibly and for the greater common good of all will depend on how truly democratic the electoral process is in the first place.