To Boycott, Or Not Boycott, That is not the Question
Yesterday has been a black day. It’s a setback for freedom of expression in Morocco, as for democracy, it has been already compromised by sad omens on the upcoming . In the rarefied circles of power, partisans of brute force seem to have now the upper hand.
A fellow blogger and friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) has recently appraised me of his decision to boycott the referendum. While I respect his stand, I was surprised. Surprised because I know him to be no Annahj, nor Al Adl sympathiser. And even though we disagree on a number of things and issues, we share a certain fascination for economic analysis, so it came as a surprise, when he told me he did not want to register. The explanation of such decision, as well as the methodology, so to speak, astounded me, simply because I have never heard of it.
A thing or two before I elaborate on that: I do not pretend to elicit some generalized pattern from my friend’s resolve not to contribute in any electioneering, nor do I have the pretence to assess the ‘mood of the nation’. This post is merely a pondered response to a hasty argument we had. I do hope there will be some reciprocation, so as to have a comprehensive view of this rather unusual boycott. Blog posts are much better than tweet snaps, I think.
My friend boycotted the registering campaign. I also understood he did not register for past elections (say 2009, 2007 and 2002 at least) so he is, quite simply, not existent as a voter and elector. Paradoxically, his all-out opposition to any kind of ‘compromise’ disenfranchised him. I don’t know if he buys into that idea that civics is a title one works out to qualify for it. but if one abdicates the right to vote, then there isn’t much left out of citizenship and civics, is there?
Worse still, his voluntary disenfranchisement does not hurt the façade of democracy he wants to do away with. Suppose a million potential voters, like my friend, reached the same conclusion, and decided not to register. Out of an electoral corps of nearly 14 Million, that is certainly no big loss. It only means one million less voters, certainly not one million blank votes, or one million-short turn-out. Because he did not bother to register, on the contrary, the yielded result is contrary to his initial aims.
Besides, that all-out opposition is almost farcical. When taken to its logical conclusion, my friend should basically renegade on his Moroccan citizenship. The argument goes as follows: Political ‘game rules’ are so biased I will not soil myself into accepting the rule-maker’s guidelines, so I will step aside. The trouble is, the very same lawmaker edicts game rules in many other ‘games': Why accept the proceedings for ID Card, or Passport? Why did he accept to receive a Scholarship when he was student? Isn’t that an explicit recognition of the lawmaker and their supremacy over game design? And why, if he was so keen not to get involve with these rules, did he accept to submit to Moroccan regulations over one of the most important contracts he would have ever signed up for? The answer, it seems, is transparent: Because he was compelled to do it. Voting is voluntary, and the choice led to what I called ‘intellectual laziness’.
The word is perhaps too strong. Contrary to any stereotyped ideas about it, intellectual laziness is a very logical, very thorough process. It is basically a cost/benefits analysis. His position can be summed up in the following question: “Why bother to vote in a referendum, if nothing new or more congenial to my own definition to democracy comes out of it?”. The cost of registering, campaigning or just trying to link up with acquaintances and convince them to follow suit is time consuming and costly in resources and efforts. Besides, here’s a very simple and cost-free way to rebuke the façade democracy Moroccan regime tries so hard to put on; Low turnout and high blank votes. Better still, define yourself out of that herd-like electoral corps, and break away as a free (wo)man.
This is intellectual laziness because the benefits of staying out of political confrontations (on ideas, projects and ultimately, streets) are overweighted compared to the incurred costs in following a different course of actions. My friend, it seems, does not understand he is, whether he likes it or not, part of Pareto’s “non-governmental elite”. Perhaps Elite embodies too much connotations as a word; Some sort of alternative ruling apparatus. He has a duty not to shrink away from these things;
My criticism -because that’s what it is, though there is no anger behind it- is rooted in the fact his gesture is futile. He wanted to boycott the referendum, but he only managed to mute his own voice by not registering. Others found time to go to the registering booth, put their names down on the list, and vowed, on Referendum Day, not to turn out to vote, or put on the ballot a blank vote. This is real boycott, and the political message carried out has a meaningful impact. A low turn out and/or a high proportion of blank votes is always a slap on the face of our much adorned image of ‘Regional Exception’, and is difficult to spin around as the symbol of contentment among Moroccan citizens. So my friend and colleague not only muted his own voice, but by doing so carried no significant political message to the regime. Not only does he fail to use his citizen right, but he managed to cut himself out of it. It’s mother’s milk for the regime if guys like him do not bother to register altogether, because no one pays attention to the size of electoral votes relative to potential voters. Media attention focuses on turnout and blank votes, nothing more.
I do hope he will reconsider his position; It ‘s too late to register again, but in his own mind, this idea of refusing to have anything to do with the regime as a proof of ‘intellectual resistance’ is adulterated by logical flaws. Whether we like it or not, our political regime is well established and dug in. It has loyalties (paid for or genuine) and has all monopolies of symbolic power. Resistance is not to step aside of the whole structure, but to step in, register and then, following each one’s state of mind, vote in favour, against or boycott the referendum. To refuse the right to vote, on the other hand, has no use.