Despite many voices undermining the concept of democracy, the dēmokratía as ancient Greek used to refer to democracy became the main system of governing in most of the European States. What impact does it have on us ordinary citizens? Indisputably it gives us a broader spectrum of powers to shape the reality in which we live.
Voting in elections is an inherent element of every form of democracy. Widespread participation of citizens in political processes is the cornerstone of democracy. Therefore, voting should be regarded as a privilege, which involves a certain degree of responsibility. When we are voting we have an influence on every aspect of our lives from free access to education to homeland security and economic stability. By voting we are making our voices heard and expressing our opinion on how we think the governments should operate.
Many argue that their vote does not really count. Some say that they do not know enough about the issues and therefore they should not vote. Others still say that they do not know where or how to vote or how to register even. The truth is that every vote counts! In order to make democracy effective we must be an active group of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote does not have the right to complain. Voting is one the most fundamental civil duties. Even if none of the political parties running in elections or candidates represent our views comprehensively, we can always vote for a party or candidate who is the closest to our political perspective. There may be some situations when we should vote for any party or candidate who staunchly oppose extremism represented by another party. Moreover, given the widespread media coverage for most of the elections and information available, it is somehow difficult to believe that people are still grappling with lack of knowledge on how to vote or register.
It is vital to vote in all elections starting from local elections, national general elections and finally in European Parliament elections. The low turnout in the last European Parliament elections which took place in 2014, is especially disturbing. The official results of “Euro’’ elections show that the turnout did not exceed 43%. In countries like the Czech Republic, Slovenia or Slovakia the turnout was less than 20%. This clearly indicates that many people across Europe still underestimate the importance of voting in European Parliament elections. Regardless of your position on the European Union, voting in the European Parliament elections gives us a chance to reaffirm or change the course of work of that institution. You are perfectly entitled to be an opponent of the European Union and be unsatisfied with the fact that your country is part of it. This is the beauty of democracy. Nobody will impose any restriction on your choice in voting. If you are a Eurosceptic person, vote for a party which represents your views and will defend them in the European Parliament. Voting is always a better form of expression of ourselves than not voting and constantly criticizing the current state of affairs.
Even more worrying is the fact that according to research conducted after the last European Parliament elections, only 28% of young people (aged 18-24) from EU Member States voted, lower than any other age group (for example 51% of those aged 55 or over voted). Arguably the main reason behind people’s reluctance to vote in national or ‘Euro’ elections simply boils down to lack of trust in politicians and their politics in general. People often perceive politicians as rogue hypocrites who promise many things during the election campaigns and once elected never even intend to fulfill these obligations. In fairness, that notorious reputation of politicians is not drawn from thin air. Unfortunately, politicians work hard every day for such reputations by lying, misinforming or simply not fulfilling their election promises. However, we need to keep in mind that not all politicians are purely evil. Arguably, in every Parliament of each Member State of the EU there are people who are motivated to serve their homeland in the best possible manner. Again, it’s our duty to identify these trustful individuals who seem to represent our values and visions for our country and VOTE for them. It may sound like cliche, it may also sound overly optimistic. However, it is still a better approach than NOT voting and then criticising every move of our governments for the next 5 years.
Where the average turnout in general national election in Member States of the EU in recent years is estimated around 65%, the recent Scottish Independence Referendum where a turnout was recorded to be 84,5% gives us some faith that higher turnouts are achievable. The key to the successfully high turnout in the Scottish Independence Referendum was a constant emphasis that the independence referendum is of paramount importance for the Scottish society and excellent citizenship education.
Undoubtedly, independence is a far more exciting and appealing reason for voting than European Parliament elections or even national general elections. The question arises: is it really? Maybe the problem lies in insufficient governmental efforts to convince its citizens that voting in elections is indeed thrilling and most importantly, a necessary part of our lives.
Luckily, there are some initiatives like the League of Young Voters who have committed themselves to increasing political awareness of people and encourage them to vote. We can collectively have a positive impact on our lives, but the first step is to increase our political awareness and VOTE!