David Blacker's comment on this eloquent and well written piece by Electra got me thinking. DB says, and I quote, hence the quotation marks:
"Whatever your viewpoint, I don’t think not voting is the answer. That’s the equivalent of saying I’m going up to my room, lemme know when it’s all better. To not vote is to avoid participation. I think a major fault of many SL voters is to want to back a winner rather than vote in a winner. In SL sometimes change for change’s sake isn’t an entirely bad thing. However, I think there are clear differences between the candidates — and just as important — between their allies."
It got me thinking about the issue of choosing not to vote in a democratic election. You see, fundamentally I believe that we, in whatever democracy we live, have the right to abstain. That right in itself is a part of the democratic process. It's an example of freedom, one of the two pillars of democracy, the other being pol sambol as we all know.
However, David also has a valid point when he says that not voting is the equivalent of saying I'm going up to my room until it's all better. In one way it is avoiding participation, in another way it's participating by not engaging with the process, which in itself can be interpreted as engaging with the process of democracy.
In the very specific case of the forthcoming Lankan Presidential election we have two main candidates and the likelihood, or the definite situation, is that one of them is going to win. Go and vote for one of the other twenty candidates and you're effectively throwing away a vote. So the choice lies between throwing away a vote with one of the minor candidates or giving your backing to SF or MR.
Many people don't back SF or MR, saying that it's a Hobson's choice. It's like being up shit creek without a paddle then getting thrown one made of crepe paper and chewing gum. These people are then in the position of voting not for the person they want but against the person they want the least. Of course not voting adds to the equation the very real possibility that your vote gets used without your knowledge anyway.
To me this is one of the most frustrating aspects to politics and elections and it's not unique to Sri Lanka by any means. We're facing the prospect of an election here in the UK and I'd be in the same position, that of voting for the party I thought was the least bad.
What is the solution to this dilemma?
One possibility is that, should the turnout for an election be below a predetermined figure, then the results are declared as invalid and a further election be called. But it's impractical. An invalid election would mean that the incumbent Prez or Government would probably remain in power until the next election, thereby perpetuating the problem of the people's dissatisfaction, not to mention the potential cost of further elections.
A further option is to somehow share power between the people who get a percentage of the vote if the overall turnout is low. So, if the required number of voters isn't reached, then a coalition government must be formed with the power divided in proportion to the votes each part actually receives. I don't know how this could work with regards to a Presidential election and it's got more drawbacks than the circumcision department at Apollo.
What ideas have you got? There must be a way in which we the voters are able to express our dissatisfaction with the options we're offered. Or is that what democracy should be to start with?
I'm off up to my room now.