COMPULSORY VOTES A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY?

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by Elena Chobanian

Journalist, Presenter, Editor-in-Chief

Correspondent at “Ararat” Magazine

 

The more European Union (EU) has become bigger, the more EU Parliamentary elections reduced in turnout – the total number of valid votes as a proportion of the total electorate. The first direct elections, which took place in 1979, are a proof of it when the percentage of votes  from 62% went to 43%. The lowest turnout was in the United Kingdom of the first nine state-members, Germany has also seen a fall in turnout (for instance, in 2009 the number of votes cast was 9.4 million less than in 1994. The recently joined EU members have contributed to falling turnout, but it does not mean that there is a weak culture of political participation.

What could be the reasons of the declination of civic participation in European Parliament elections? The answer is not difficult. The main factors of declining of the civic participation in EP elections in the new EU member countries are various. Many studies in the field showed that turnout can be influenced by voter registration, for example. Another explanation may be gender, education (young educated women, who use the internet, are more likely to vote than men, especially uneducated ones) or age, which seems to play an important in this context (22-25 age is the lowest turnout across the EU, 70-73 age is the highest one). Although, this is not apparent in all countries, and there are also other opinions on turnouts in case of electronic democracy (via new technologies, computer voting). We may assume that there is a political apathy among younger age groups/citizens towards European Parliament elections (fig.1).

fig.1  Reasons of  low turnouts

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The declining civic participation may be affected by the lack of trust among citizens towards EP and politicians as well, a fact which occurs quite often. They feel that cannot make any changes both in society and in politics. But some scholars argued that it is not a negative fact as we may think. It could explain that people in fact have enough trust in the system and that is why that they have become passive in elections. Other reasons may be personal related to the EU, or especially political parties which change quite rapidly.  For instance, British citizens may show different reasons to not voting, that is the luck of trust, dissatisfaction in politics, as I mentioned before, which can affect turnout. We may outline Greece and Italy where the decline of turnout was the highest in (from 65% to 29 and 41%) a few years ago. Of course, we must not forget about the media which plays a significant role especially during elections, informing people about the European Union, European Parliament and, generally, political parties. If a campaign is not salient, in the EU elections case, then media coverage is low which may leave citizens/voters uniformed, therefore not interested in politics, but voting is the central element of democratic political system. Hence, low turnout signifies distorting patterns of representation, declining legitimacy of democratic institutions.  Some studies have shown that in spite of the act of voting is done by individuals, and individual characteristics have contextual influence. Other factors may be Sunday voting, vacation period, health, lack or little or even lack of information about EU, and the support for the EU (due to the media coverage or not enough campaigning of parties and candidates), as well as income, political interest, views, culture (the political environment in CEE countries is still under the influence of their Communist past). As a solution to the problem of low turnouts, states introduced compulsory voting law (in Belgium, Switzerland in 1893, 1852), that is obliged voting process. However, many interpret it as a threat to democratization, democratic choices of people, therefore a democratic social-political system.

In conclusion, low turnouts of vote undermine the European Parliament representativity and its image as a democratic entity. On the other hand, civic education programmes would mean investments in longer time and without clear, stable results. There is no clear connection between the effect of exposure to various media on voter turnout in the 2009 EU elections in the new member states as well. And there is no single factor which could decline civic participation in European Parliament elections.

Posted by on Jun 17 2016. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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