Now that we are approaching the European Parliament elections in 2014 it’s inevitable to wonder about the voting turnout. In the last elections in 2009, abstention was the highest in 30 years time, with 57% of voters choosing not to exercise their voting right. In fact, according to the European Parliament 2009 European Elections Desk Research Report abstention increased from 30% in 1979 (the year that direct elections were introduced) to 57% in 2009. Several analysts at the time conveyed different explanations for the voters disregard; some view it as a clear indication that Europeans were not happy with the policies and governance in Brussels and others, like Charlemagne from the Economist (June 2009), found some reasons in the lack of information that citizens have of the day to day lawmaking, or the fact that the issues that people are more concerned about such as education, health or taxes have a strong national government scope.
Maybe there is a little truth in all these views; Europeans may feel the Parliament is just too far away from their everyday lives, don’t have any idea of the work done by the MEPs, are not satisfied with the political decisions or simply think they don’t care enough to vote. But here lies the paradox; for as much as we think it’s not worth it, decisions made at the European Union level do impact the everyday lives of European citizens, and by not voting, as we seen in the last several elections throughout Europe, the votes tend to concentrate, with the more radical parties (on the right and left spectrum) gaining greater expression which leads to less political diversity and, in the end, to a shrinking democracy.
The need for more citizens' participation in major decisions is evident, not only for the purpose of preventing greater distance between politicians and their constituents and the everyday structural issues that matter most to them, but also so citizens can better understand how the political process works, and develop capacities to improve that process by giving critical and constructive input. Of course, none of these is possible, if politicians view democratic governance as a career and not as a development dynamic, along with the citizens themselves who may not realize their power as active participants or if they are not educated to be critical-thinking voters, able to discern which political platform would better represent their interests. To consciously vote is to take the first step to be an engaged participanting citizen.
So, voting is indeed a practical way to exercise citizen power, even if we are only voting in the least bad of a bad selection of choices, not voting is giving that power away. Because, if voters make a stand by abstaining, they can make a stronger standpoint by saying as they vote: “we have the power to give you the capacity to represent our interests as citizens and expect you to do so with democratic integrity”.
Editor's note: you can also check Anabela's blog for more different stories.