I’ve had the privilege of voting in several elections in South Africa. Each time, felt like an important milestone in the country. Every time, leaders reiterated how important it was for each eligible voter to go out and cast their ballot. It was about living in a democracy, exercising one’s right and feeling a part of a changing world. I’ve also always believed that covering any election where as a news reporter, news anchor or manager is also a privilege. The world of radio allowed our newsroom to bring listeners immediate details of election developments in real time, speak to voters about a range of concerns, probe claims of irregularities and intimidation cases and be part of robust debate to make sure that politicians were held accountable for their promises.
This month I had the privilege of voting for the first time as an Israeli citizen. I was also lucky enough to experience this election race while working for international television station, i24NEWS. More stories about what voters are hoping for, more in-depth investigations about mudslinging and dirty campaigns and more intense debate about the best way forward for a country.
Here are some of the stark differences that stood out for this first-time voter.
Where are the queues?
In South Africa, you could spot snaking queues outside polling stations hours before voting started. It was part of the election fun. You stood chatting to people in line for a good while before making your mark. In Israel, the entire process for me from start to finish took 4 minutes. No queue? Was it because there were more than 10-thousand-700 polling booths for 6.3 million voters? It was such a quick voting experience.
No ink stamp? Really…
In South Africa, every voter has their one thumb stamped with ink in the election booth, to indicate that they have made their mark. It stops people from trying to vote a second time. The ink leaves a mark on your hand for a few days, but does eventually wash off. I looked around at the three official monitors sitting at classroom desks in Israel, waiting to see how they would ‘mark’ the fact that I had voted. They simply crossed my name off a list and smiled.
Selfie sightings – Photographs inside voting stations?
Photographs inside a voting room were a complete no-no in South Africa. I was stunned at the numbers of people on social media who took selfies in this election in Israel. Some even took pics of their ballot paper. A new sign of the times?
Political debates with everyone…strangers too!
Intense debate around election time is an important part of a democratic process. But I was stunned at how many people in Israel openly discuss who they are voting for, ask you directly who you are supporting and advise you on the best candidate. These pieces of advice can come from people you know and complete strangers in the queue at the supermarket or in a taxi. Many colleagues reported on how these debates continued outside voting stations. The debate is passionate, loud and clear.
Victory speeches – too soon?
Working in various newsrooms over the years, can give one interesting insights into the similarities and difference in the voting process the world over. But, I can’t remember ever covering a ‘victory speech’ from any candidate within half an hour of voting stations closing. Especially a candidate that ultimately wasn’t the winner. Why did the co-leader of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz deliver a victory speech, shortly after the first exit polls were released? And later, Benjamin Netanyahu too announced his victory. I can’t imagine why any party leader – or advisor – would allow such a speech to be made so early on in the counting process. Another first for this first time voter.
Where does the country stand now? At this point, Benjamin Netanyahu is putting together his coalition government after securing a fifth term as prime minister of the country. The political process continues.
Smile of the Week
It was an honour to take my 12-year old son with me to the polling station on voting day. I love seeing the way the youth learn to understand the workings of a country. As I was about to go into the voting booth, he smiled and joked: Make sure you vote for the leader who decides to stop school on Sundays!