May 16, 2014
9 days to go till #EP2014 elections in Romania and the expectations aren’t particularly high. There seems to be a collective idea that voting makes no difference, and to some extent that is actually true. We are voting on party lists, where major party figures are ranked up top on said lists, so no matter how the vote turns up, they can be sure today (and it’s valid for a month ago too) that they will be in the EP in the next legislative. And that makes this election look like the rehearsals to a bad show.
The only thing that can and would through them off their game is a high voter turnout. If the voter turnout is low, and thus consisting mainly of party members/affiliates or cronies then all parties are happy as it would involve little to no effort on their side to convince voters. Which is exactly what is happening. This is by far the least exciting campaign I’ve seen in the last 20 years. The ruling coalition expects a landslide victory and no one seems actually willing or interested in challenging them.
While I do care about who is going to Brussels, like any other responsible citizen, I care more about the poor state of democracy this lack of voter turnout implies. And it is a phenomenon rooted in disappointment and fallacious arguments that have been circulating on social media and / or traditional media.
It begins with understanding why voting is so important. Most people around me seem to think that voting is just a means to legitimize this or that politician’s arrival into power. It continues with understanding why each vote counts, although it should be a direct consequence of the first. And it ends with understanding what you vote for, who you vote for and coming up with an answer to the question why, even if nobody should ever ask you that – the vote you cast is a private matter, unless you choose to divulge it.
So we have a triplet – responsibility, education and involvement.
Most people around me seem to think that casting your vote is a God given right that they have been born with and nobody can ever take that away from them. Which is not just historically inaccurate, but also untrue – the Justice system can take away your voting right in a number of instances, still under the auspices of democracy. The same goes for emergency situations and so on. But more important than that, voting is a responsibility not just a right. The whole construct of democratic systems relies on people casting their vote. The less people vote, the less democratic the system. At extremes you can say it’s a new form of “plutocracy”, where, from ballot to ballot, a small number of citizens impose their will on the rest of the citizens. And it’s not centered on the wealthy but on those that cast votes. Let’s call it a apathy-cracy, as it is driven by apathy in members of our society. Furthermore, this a rolling group of people – while there are the core numbers that have never missed a vote, the larger group is made up of individuals that did vote. Begs the question what if those that do vote are motivated by something other than their civic duty? Such as party directive, incentives of all sorts etc., basically situations where the vote is not free-willed but the result of somebody else’s agenda. Then this apathy-cracy is nothing more than a false democracy, and all we are left with is 4/5 more years of complaining. And if that was not bad enough, think what those that know and have obtained power so easily will do with it.
We don’t just have a right – we have a responsibility to not allow those that can control, in various ways, large groups of people, to decide where our future lies, how many taxes we pay, things we are allowed and not allowed to do – what is tomorrow, on the back flip of a ballot of this sort, some new political power comes into play and decides that all blonde haired people should be forced to die their hair blue? (the example is of course exaggerated but it stands to prove a point). Extremes like this are harder to attain today, but censorship, limiting civic liberties, control of the press and judiciary are far more attainable goals. Look around you, and you’ll see it.
If you want to have a say in your future, go vote. Take your friends and family and tell them that they should vote. In a previous post (here) I talked of actual representativity – a % representing those that did vote for a particular leader in national elections across the EU recently. When you’ll understand that the leaders you have a grudge against have been brought to power by some 20 something percent of the population you’ll understand why you need to vote. It’s not optional, it is basically the number 1 thing you can do to change things.
Once you understand the need to participate in the democratic exercise, you can pressure / petition or even start citizens initiatives to make sure that candidates, others than the ones you got used too in the past decade or so, have a chance to be on the ballot come next round of elections. But that does not mean that since somebody you would consider proper for the job advertised is not on the ballot you should not vote. And we get to the second thing.
The root of all evil in a democracy is lack of citizens education – civic education that is. Coupled with lack of responsibility, more often than not associated with educated citizens, and you have a new dilemma – the apathy-cracy we talked about earlier has now evolved into an uneducated apathy-cracy, where the least knowledgeable about democracy citizens get to make the decision. Give yourself a thumbs up if by know you figured out that these citizens are also the easiest to manipulate or most susceptible to incentives in cash or products. So the more democracy-educated people don’t vote, the easier it is for political groups to maneuver the vote. There you go, you stayed home and made their job even easier. Now sit back, get yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the bickering – you helped it, didn’t you?
And it is not just about the lack of civic education and knowledge about democracy – it is also a matter of educating yourself about who you vote for – who are the candidates, why are they on the ballot, what have they done in the past, what are his/her stances on things that matter to you – don’t just vote for this or that party because well, you have affinities with their agenda. Think things through – that’s why we have campaigns in the first place – so that each candidate (in theory) can present his/her agenda, his/her views and convince voters. But as we all know that is seldom what happens. However that is why it is significantly more important to educate yourself. We live in the age of Internet – information is easily available to those interested to look for it. And look for it you must, to save yourself from bitter disappointment a couple of months down the road.
When you vote you must think. You don’t just get up in the morning, show up and vote. You have to know beforehand why you vote for this or that candidate. Essentially politicians work under a social contract – they take it upon themselves to do their best in achieving this or that goal, and you accept and empower him through vote. If he does not come through, you don’t vote for him the next time around. And there is always a next time around, thanks to, of course, democracy. Not voting is similar in this respect to someone choosing in your stead what mobile fare you have to pay, even if the fare is to expensive and the services do not fulfill your needs you are stuck with it, for 4/5 years. Kinda nasty don’t you think? Would you accept it if someone else chose what you have to wear everyday, and there is nothing you can do about it but obide?
Educating yourself, and implicitly those around you, is the main thing that you can do to make sure that once you cast your vote it matters. Read, digest, ask around, debate, see what others are doing – and don’t stick to just one source of information. Multiply your sources, read diverging points of view, extract and filter everything you read or hear. That’s the basis of making a right choice.
And educate others, because it is as always a matter of..
Being involved does not mean joining a party or a campaign. It means being involved with your community. Understanding what your needs are, what are the needs of the community and how you and them, together, can make a choice and implicitly an investment in your future welfare. That is what voting is – a choice and an investment. The choice has to be educated and the investment of trust primarily deducted from needs – yours and those of the community. Voting is just as much about the individual as it is about the community – It is about you, because you cast your vote, and it is about the community (however large that community is) because the choices made individually affect you all as a community.
That is why you have to be involved – friends and family are the most basic level! Urge them to cast an educated vote, and talk to them about what their choices mean for all of you. Don’t ever tell them who to vote for, because you would be no better than the people we discussed above, but make sure they have their facts straight and that the options laid before them are objective and unbiased. Transfer the knowledge you have acquired and acquire new knowledge. It is the simplest of things. And it yields the best of results.
Don’t take my word for it
Go out and seek your own understanding. Read more blogs, inquire about more things, read the Constitution and ask yourself what the hell are you voting for. And before you go into that booth make sure you have the following questions answered:
a) Who am I voting for?
b) Why am I voting for them?
If you got these 2 things checked out, and your decision is based upon your own reasoning than democracy still stands.
Failure to do so, or failure to come to your own conclusion, is going to cost us all. Including you. And your children, grandchildren and if we look into history a bit and extrapolate, it might cost your grand-grandchildren too. No choice is not important. And no vote meaningless.Horatiu Ferchiu