Rising voter apathy threatens democracy

 

Bharat Kumar (not his real name) is 32 years old and while in India, he often wondered why he was not allowed to vote (he was just eight years old then).

“I have the right to choose the Government that plans for my future,” he would often think and say to his parents and his friends.

He migrated to New Zealand when he was ten years old. He became eligible to vote in the November 1999 general election. And yet, thus far, six general elections later, he is yet to exercise his franchise.

Bharat’s abstention, he says, is “A Political Statement” on the sorry state of politics. He does not think that any of myriad Parties is likely to bring about the change he wants.

That could be the reason for the overriding apathy among our youth today.

New Zealand has a peculiar electoral system. While enrolling at the Electoral Commission is mandatory, with non-compliance leading to prosecution in a court of law with penalty and a possible prison term, voting is not compulsory.

Declining numbers

Voter apathy appears to be wide-spread. According to the Economist, in Britain and Poland, less than half of under 25s voted in their country’s most recent general election. Two-thirds of Swiss millennials stayed at home on election day in 2015, as did four-fifths of American ones in the congressional election in 2014.

Indifference among youth

Those fretting about the future of democracy have been searching for ways to get more young people to vote. The most obvious would be to make voting compulsory, as it is in Australia, Belgium, Brazil and many other countries.

We have raised this subject again since New Zealand is on the threshold of demographic change. It is important that we debate the process of our participation in the electoral process and encourage our youngsters to become politically responsible.

 

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