‘In April, May calls June election…’
This humorous tweet captures the shock felt across the nation last week when the Prime Minister called a snap general election.
Not even a year has passed since the UK took the momentous decision to leave the EU. Throw in the prospect of Brexit negotiations and talk of #indyref2 for Scotland, and this election is a prospect that many won’t relish. The timescale, the process, the public mood, the stakes, personalities and range of outcomes make this an unprecedented challenge for the British electorate.
Some will feel the political equivalent to donor fatigue and disengage. Others will thrive off another opportunity to exercise their democratic right. Why binge-watch the latest TV drama series when Peter Snow can provide all the theatre you need in one long night in June?
But however we feel about recent electoral tidal waves, we must beware lest we take our democratic and political freedom for granted.
According the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, over 68,000,000 people around the world will cast a vote in a national election this year. The number sounds impressive. In the coming weeks Britain will join France, South Korea, Norway, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea in national elections.
But the free and fair elections expected in these countries are not a privilege that the majority of states around the world enjoy. It’s a fact lost on many of the British electorate. The Economist’s democracy index estimate that only 4.5 per cent of the world’s population enjoy ‘full democracy’ compared to 33 per cent who live under an ‘authoritarian regime’. It is unlikely they will ever see a ballot paper in their lifetime.
The Economist Intelligence Unit define authoritarian regimes as ‘…nations where political pluralism has vanished or is extremely limited. These nations are often absolute dictatorships, may have some conventional institutions of democracy – but with meager significance, infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace, elections – if they take place – are not fair and free, the media is often state-owned or controlled by groups associated with the ruling regime’ 
Unsurprisingly Syria and North Korea are bottom of the list. Others include The Gambia, where recent political transition came within a whisker of conflict. Later in May, Algeria votes in a new national assembly and Iran will elect a new president. It is doubtful that the will of the people be truly expressed.
In response to this brief global picture, there are two lessons Christians in the UK could reflect on. The first is a lesson from the masses.
Confidence in South African president Jacob Zuma has been in rapid decline over recent months, leaving significant economic uncertainty for this new democracy. What the electorate would give for a snap election in 2017 rather than waiting until 2019.
Astonishingly, an estimated 1.7 million South Africans gathered last weekend in what is thought to be the country’s largest ever multiracial prayer gathering in Bloemfontein. But the point was not about political rights, but spiritual privileges. Organizer, ‘Faith like Potatoes’ evangelist, Angus Buchan said ‘we are tired of people taking the law into their own hands. We are going to call upon the Lord to bring justice, peace and hope to our beloved South Africa’.
On the one hand size doesn’t matter. The Lord delights in the prayers of just ‘two or three’. But if we love our country half as much as South Africans love theirs, then whatever the scale of our prayer gatherings, we would do well to emulate our Christian brothers and sisters by praying for the justice, peace and hope of Christ’s reign to be felt across our land as the UK election approaches. We mustn’t be afraid to let national pride in our country motivate us to pray. As we look at our own country we can learn a lesson from the masses.
But as we look out at the world, we can also learn from a solitary individual.
Jesus’ parable of the unjust woman in Luke 18 gives Christians motivation to pray tirelessly in the face of injustice. Jesus’ point is that if a corrupt judge can relent and offer a woman justice against her adversary because of her persistence, how much more will the God of all righteousness bring justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?
So pray, and never give up.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy index map for 2016. Bluer colours represent more democratic countries.
Written by Jamie Read
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