Monday, May 3, 2010
aka Jandzhs , aka Jaņdžs
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2 Democracy as Dictat (1)
The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a think tank that advertises itself as among top ten in the world, recently published (July, 2009) Working Document No. 317, which goes under the lengthy title “Lost Voters: Participation in EU elections and the case for compulsory voting.” The author of the document is Anthoula Malkopoulou, a Visiting Fellow at CEPS.
The aim of WD (Working Document) #317 is to explore the possibility of introducing in the EU Parliament elections a compulsory voting system. The reason for the study is the decreasing participation of the electorate in EU elections, falling from 62% in 1979 to 43% in 2009. The reason for considering compulsory elections are clearly stated: “…the EU needs credibility for its democracy promotion projects.” The author argues that “…the historical experience of war and military regimes in Europe during the last century, provide an uncontested common ground of conceptual understanding between Europeans…. Therefore, the EU simply cannot afford to be criticized for the quality of its own democratic record. (Blogger’s italics.)”
The author of WD #317 presents the case for compulsory voting because according to the paper the EU is divided in West and East, and manifested that separation when the East gathered 32% of the votes, while the West contributed 52%. The two states with the lowest voting records were Slovakia and Lithuania, with a voter turnout of 20 and 21% respectively.
The aforementioned sets up “…the case for compulsory voting”.
1) Moral: compulsory voting “…creates political advantages for certain political groups.”
2) Technical: “…compulsory voting is difficult and expensive to enforce.”
3) Most serious objection: “…it violates the principle of liberty.”
4) Another problem: “…despite technical guarantees like the possibility of casting a blank ballot, without due care, the system is subject to abuse.” As this blogger sees it, the abuse is directed by “they” (who ever “they” of the regime may be) at the “enemies of the regime”, very likely the “populists”.
1) “…as the [EU] Parliament struggles to acquire a stronger role vis-à-vis the Commission and the Council, it (would) protect its raison d’etre as an institution that represents the EU citizens.”
2) A mandatory vote “…would recreate the EU electorate as a unified political body and add new dimensions to EU citizenship.”
3) It would result in “…a harmonization of the political landscape.”
One can hardly object to the sentiment. Nevertheless, interestingly the “…practice that is common… especially for referenda, is the turnout requirement (blogger’s italics).
“[The requirement] originated in the USSR, where an election was considered invalid and held anew if it failed to meet a certain threshold. Similar rules still exist today in several ex-Soviet states, like Moldova and Hungary, where at least 50% of electors have to participate to make elections valid…. They also apply for referendums in Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, sometimes sponsored from abroad, like the EU request for a minimum 50% turnout on Montenegrin independence….”
In Serbia the turnout requirement was cancelled after three failed attempts to elect a new President (2002-2004). In order to avoid a similar deadlock, the Russian Duma lifted the requirements (2006), keeping only 20% minimum for referenda.
1) A compulsory or mandatory vote necessarily either supports or produces a political status quo;
2) from such a status quo the only exit possible is by way of
a) a political explosion;
b) a war;
c) a hit by a huge meteor.
Let us take the three items above one by one try think of some examples that may activate them.
A political status quo may result for a number of reasons, but one reason is the presumption that the Constitution of the State is a sacred and unchangeable matter for all times and because… cannot be quickly resolved to be overcome.
Another example that comes to mind is the Weimar Constitution. According to historian William Shirer, the Weimar Constitution "…on paper [is] the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen ... full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy." However, it did not work. We need go no further than the fact that the Weimar constitution remained on the book throughout the reign of Hitler, even if it was dead letter. One may say that Hitler was a) a political explosion; and b) war.
If the EU would introduce compulsory voting on the Latvian electorate at this time, it is a virtual guarantee of the status quo and the institution of a paradox—dictatorial democracy, sometimes known as a partidocracy, i.e., rule by parties whose inner mechanisms are controlled by oligarchal interests. Alas, the Latvian government of today (incidentally, this is not in any way a reflection on Latvia as a state) is more than likely to support the tilt toward compulsory voting presented by WD #317.
What WD #317 completely overlooks is a dimension of voting that goes beyond the simplistic yes/no, voters/non-voters oppositional poles. It completely forgets the third leg of the cauldron, the “not-vote”. The not-vote is the voter who when compelled to vote is now alleged to deliberately spoil-destroy his vote as a protest. The semantics in this exercise maliciously equate a “not-vote” with a “non-vote”. The powers that be do not dwell on the differences. Technically speaking, a non-vote is a vote that does not exist, because a non-voter chooses to remove him-herself from the realm where only legal citizens dwell. It is a kind of Guantanamo limbo. On the other hand, a not-voter wishes to have his/her vote recorded, but is not provided with the opportunity to do so by the government on the presumption he-she are spoil-sports. Whether the Constitution would provide the not-voter with an opportunity to have his/her not-vote recorded is a mute point, because a compulsory EU vote would disable the mechanisms necessary to change or overwrite the Constitution in a manner that would make a not-vote part of the voting mechanism.
Asterisk & Notes of Interest:
CEPS on compulsory voting here.
These blogs tend to be a continuum of an idea or thought, which is why—if you are interested in what you read—you are encouraged to consider reading the previous blog and the blog hereafter.
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