With more and more people globally demanding the right to free and fair elections, why do we in the West not value this right? asks Emily Shaw.
As is evident due to political events such as the recent and ongoing Arab Spring, the rights of individuals to democratic governments are being increasingly demanded worldwide. The fact that people are willing to lose their lives in order to gain the right to vote in authoritarian states, as the suffragettes did for British women not so long ago, is an evident sign the voice of the individual is crying out to be heard via a democratic system of governance in many states.
This therefore raises the question as to why in Western established democracies, citizens are so apathetic towards voting in elections, whether it be on a local, regional, national or international level. Perhaps citizens in countries such as Britain and the USA have taken the fact that they have a voice as individuals for granted. It is essential however, that the governments in such states attempt to resolve this issue, with voter figures seemingly decreasing each time the ballot boxes are opened.
But, how should or could this situation be amended? I am not professing that I know the answer to this problem myself, but if the situation worsens, such states may end up in the position whereby under fifty percent of the population turn out to vote, with an even smaller number of those people voting for the winning candidate. Be it because they never turned up to the polling stations, or because they voted for a candidate who did not win, this situation is not desirable. It seems that the problem worsens and the voter turnout figures get even lower, the larger the scale of the vote is. For example, EU voters for MEPs go to the polls in notoriously low numbers. Perhaps this is due to people being fed up with the idea of the EU due to the current Eurozone crisis that seems to have no end in sight. Whether people do not turn up to the ballot boxes out of protest or out of laziness, it is certainly a problem that needs resolving sooner rather than later.
Debate arises over whether - as is employed in Australia – people who do not turn out to vote should be fined, thus making voting compulsory for all. Though this would improve voter turnout figures, it rather seemingly defeats the object of a democracy, whereby people can choose to voice their opinion if they so wish. Furthermore, this would merely instil an artificial interest in politics amongst the population and could lead to an increased number of people who purposely spoil their ballot papers in protest.
The governments of such countries and regional IGOs do however; need to be aware and conscious of the fact that people feel disengaged from their politicians – arguably a result of scandals such as those regarding MP’s expenses. But with people in other parts of the world valiantly trying and even dying to obtain freedom of speech and free and fair democratic elections, it most certainly puts apathetic Western citizens to shame.
read more: Voters: Apathetic