Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apathy vs. Empowerment

This week in Israel we had local elections for Mayors and municipal councils. The overall turnout was about 50%, while in the large cities it was much lower, around 30%.

Here in Haifa the turnout was 33%, and the current Mayor, Yona Yahav, was reelected with 46% of the votes. If I'm calculating correctly, this means that just 15% of the registered voters actually chose to vote for the Mayor.

The voter apathy and the resulting distortion of the democratic principle of majority choice are causing concern. People once fought for the right to vote and elect representatives. Now many people can't be bothered to go out and vote. Some may be cynical, thinking that it doesn't make any difference who's in power. Some just don't like thinking about "politics", although in the case of municipal elections, the choice is more closely related to specific local policies than to the party affiliation of the candidates.

Empowerment means increasing the power of individuals or groups. In a democracy, the voting population is empowered by being granted the right to vote for representatives to rule or manage the national or local affairs of the community. Being granted the right is obviously insufficient. People have to want to exercise this right, or democracy won't work properly. It seems to me that granting people empowerment or rights is like registering them to a gym. If they don't want to make the effort to go and train, this makes no difference to their lives. They are actively choosing to disempower themselves. They could just as well be living in an absolute monarchy or totalitarian dictatorship.

More education seems to be required in democracies to encourage voters to cast their votes. Apathy and cynicism are a lazy and dangerous option, allowing leaders to rule when they represent only a small portion of the public. As I said in a previous post, the presidential elections in the USA seem to have brought some new voters out of their apathy and given them sufficient hope and enthusiasm to go and vote. All democracies should aim for such an atmosphere before elections.

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