You know the drill, because you’ve probably learnt it all too well. Elections for the European Parliament, and not to mention our local councils, are today and you’ve been bombarded with a series of events, promotional material and facebook posts about how fundamental your vote is to the upkeep of our democracy. If you were wondering, yes, voting is very important, but only as long as we preserve its value, and only if those in power respect what it really means. In an era where British citizens are feeling betrayed for their representatives not succeeding at reaching a conclusion to the Brexit debacle, almost 3 years after the Brexit referendum, the magnitude of why elected politicians not only need to, but have to keep the will of those who voted for them in mind has never been more relevant as it is now.
Day after day, political parties are just seen as being more of the same in the eyes of the average joe, be it because of corruption on both sides of the aisle, broken promise after broken promise, or cheap, bland rhetoric superseding a lack of decisive action. This lack of faith in politics just generates a profound sense of apathy that can be found across society as a whole and across Europe as a whole, thus creating a sense that voting doesn’t make a difference and will only lead to the same result time and time again. This leaves many with an attitude of indifference towards politics, together with an antagonistic perspective regarding it which can in an environment as innocent as a school, which is at the heart of the direction in which Maltese democracy is heading, in light of 16 year-olds being given the right to vote.
Many people still have memories circling round in their heads of being told off as children for bringing up a political subject in a class discussion, with it being instantly shut down and considered to be a taboo topic. This lack of awareness and enthusiasm towards politics, and a more civic style of education did not only create an aloof mentality with regards to politics, but also did not premediate the importance such an issue would have in the national conversation as it does now.
While Vot 16 is a commendable idea in theory, it still lacks the infrastructure for it to be a success in practice in terms of informing students about the fundamental aspects of the political framework keeps a country running, together with the crucial components of a constitutional democracy, like how the executive, the legislative and the judiciary function. Yes, this sounds like a bucket-load of information to shove into teenager’s heads, but the line between what’s right and what’s easy can be blurry from time to time, and it certainly is in this instance.
As much as politics may seem to be a nuisance from time to time, given the amount of media coverage it gets and the negative connotations it has, voting in of itself, is not just a responsibility, but a duty. It’s imperative to remind citizens of the importance of voting, since it enables voters to have a say on who represents them and who leads their country, while also sending a message to their politicians in terms of what they expect from them and what they think of their actions as elected officials. However, many people, especially youth, may not feel that incentivised to vote due to a discouraging political climate within their country or a general sense of apathy and distrust towards politicians.
No one can surely deny that the Maltese political scene leaves much to be desired in several aspects, and in many respects the past few weeks of the election campaign for the European Parliamentary elections have managed to drive more people away from party politics, as opposed to bringing people towards them. Going through the intricacies of this election campaign, ranging from the issues brought up the political parties who fielded candidates and the tactics adopted by them, warrants an article of its own and we certainly can’t adjudicate the effect they have had on the Maltese populace until today, which will be an even more important poll than any newspaper can ever carry out.
Apart from having the highest voter turnout for local parliamentary elections in the EU, it also has the third highest voter turnout for European Parliamentary elections in the EU with Belgium and Luxembourg coming in first and second respectively. This certainly does re-affirm Malta’s commitment to punch above its weight in any way, shape or form, but we shouldn’t take it for granted either in light of the unpredictable nature which elections can have.
To make voting count, voters expect a lot more than the usual generic and idealistic statements which candidates spew while trying to fish for votes by means of the most populist pledges or offers being made. They expect their concerns to be listened to and have their criticism received. They expect politicians to act in the interests of their voters and not of their own. They expect to be understood in not wanting to vote because the political situation isn’t encouraging them to do so instead of being called lazy and un-informed. They expect their vote to matter so that it can do justice to the magnitude which voting is meant to have in a democratic country, and with the introduction of Vot 16, this factor can’t be underestimated enough.
Living and participating in a democracy doesn’t only warrant appreciation, but maintenance and stability. Civic engagement continues to be a key component of what a democracy consists of, and the participation of its citizens can only be sustained even further, be they young or old, if they are given the tools which make up a democracy and also taught about the significance which they hold. There’s no value in praising democracy unless we respect it as well, and this is what must take place if political subjects are expected to no longer be frowned upon in schools and for youth to be enriched with the skills to become the next generation of Malta’s young leaders.