Andreas C Chrysafis
The battle for the May 2016 parliamentary elections in Cyprus is in full swing and sabres crisscrossing between rival groups are rattling like never before. On the other hand people are in a sombre mood with electoral fatigue, apathy and a feeling of betrayal by the political establishment implicated in financial scandals, institutional corruption and banking fraud in giant proportions.
Electioneering and spin by the seasoned-old clan and a new breed of young aspiring politicians promise that if elected, they will always perform with transparency and honesty. Ambitious objectives indeed especially for a country ruled by kakistocracy in a pseudo-democracy in which unworthy politicians are selected for power and protected by political immunity!
The recent revelations in the Panama Papers reveal how corporations including government officials worldwide once considered pillars of society, are now exposed for pilfering millions from the state in back handers, tax evasion and syphoned in offshore tax havens. Cyprus has also been named as one of those countries offering dubious services for such activities.
In Cyprus, the current mood of voter mistrust against the system aggravated by the revelation of scandalous corruption cases reaffirms people’s opinion not to trust politicians. Yet, come Election Day many will exercise their civic duty and cast a vote to sustain the status quo for another five years. That’s the real problem! Cypriots are well convinced not to question the wisdom of the political party system and like loyal citizens go with the flow. Whether they like it or not, they are condemned to tolerating an electoral system that has failed them for so many years.
Deprived of horizontal voting, people are obliged to vote for the almighty party and the outcome of that is the continuation of the current system. In the worst scenario, most would choose to abstain rather than vote for unworthy political parties they no longer trust to serve their best interests.
There are over 150 candidates on the campaign trail running under the banner of various political parties or as “independent” seeking to win a place in the 56-member chamber of the parliament. There are no guarantees that those elected will actually make any difference or improve the current political system – Philosopher Rulers they are not, but disciples of The Party they are!
The largest unofficial political party in Cyprus today, it’s made up of the 340.000 (57%) abstention voters who did not cast a vote at the last elections. This is a phenomenon and such a powerful group of disenfranchised citizens cannot be ignored; yet they simply don’t exist in the election process!
Irrespective of political misgivings, there are valid reasons that radical changes are needed in the electoral system to recognize the protest vote as an integral part of elections. For years, the message of abstention voters has been slandered as apathy but that is totally wrong. Abstention protest voters cannot be linked with real apathetic voters, as all the parties would like to make people believe.
Voters do not abstain without a reason or because they are lazy or they don’t care as some would claim; they abstain because they have lost faith in a system that has failed their expectations. So it is not the electorate that behaves irresponsibly but the political parties that refuse to recognize their own misgivings.
The “white/blank” vote represents a massive block of citizens and must be added as an integral part of democracy and not dumped onto a rubbish heap. It offers people another choice and a mechanism to stop the growth of elected dictatorship coordinated by established political parties.
If not recognized, marginalized citizens can be influenced by nationalistic slogans and personalities such as the rise of US-billionaire Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. His radical message tickles people’s ears and has motivated the white/blank disenfranchised voters back to the ballot box in millions and in his favour.
Abstention votes can be interpreted in two ways; firstly, as a message of protest against unpopular policies of a government or political parties that no longer represent them; and secondly, they describe their feelings of helplessness but also disappointment that no matter how they vote or who gets elected things remain the same.
Rather than not vote at all, the introduction of a “white/blank” vote in the electoral process provides the final segment of people’s democratic rights. At present, abstention figures have no influence at all but casting a “white/blank” vote in a ballot box cannot be ignored or discarded into the bin. They have to be counted as a protest vote. Unfortunately today, white or blank votes have no influence on the election procedure and that’s precisely what needs to be changed; to make those votes count!
There are valid and good reasons why “white/blank” votes are as important as all other votes cast for one political party or another:
- Casting a white/blank protest vote, citizens exercise their civic duty as active voters;
- A white/blank vote reflects the mood of the electorate especially by those objecting in the way the government and politicians handle the affairs of the nation;
- It enhances the rights of the people and strengthens the principle of democracy by eliminating the marginalization of a vast sector of citizens from the electoral process;
- An overall majority of white/blank protest votes offers a democratic right to a call of “no confidence” in government, parliament or the political system;
- It defines the real figures of each political-party influence;
- The sanctioning of a white/blank protest vote encourages ballot participation and reduces abstentions;
- It provides an alternative for active citizenship in the affairs of the nation without the demand to be a member of a specific political party;
- It enhances the democratic principle in citizens’ direct involvement and reduces the possibilities of minority-governance through political party temporary coalition deals;
- Recognition of the protest votes enables political parties to move forward;
- A white/blank vote acts – and can be used – as a powerful “people’s veto” against bad government policy.
Fifty-seven percent or 340.000 abstention voters in Cyprus cannot all be wrong and certainly those figures cannot be swept under the carpet as if they do not exist or don’t matter in the electoral process. If so, democracy is also questionable!
When a “white/blank” vote is incorporated into the electoral voting system then we can be assured that true democracy will start to flourish in the interest of the nation. But for that to happen, people need a Revolution of the Mind to demand a fair voting system that allows the opinion of all citizens count; a protest white vote, it’s one them! Then, we will smell the sweet scent of a true democracy in action.
There are ways and means to do that but unfortunately not the will. Not to vote it’s certainly not the answer.
Meanwhile, under the current mood, the abstention voters at next month’s parliamentary elections will be repeated again – if not in greater numbers. This should seriously concern the government and the country at large.
Andreas C Chrysafis
April 7, 2016