Looking for Democracy, the antidote for extremism
The poor turnout in last week's European Parliamentary elections showcases the lack of interest in politics and its growing distance from the people
The turnout in last week's European Parliamentary elections was hailed by the media as being the highest in twenty years, being fractionally over fifty per cent of the electorate, as a whole. However in some countries the turnout was thirty per cent, reflecting a general trend of distancing between people and politics across the globe, in local, legislative and presidential elections.
The extremists will always turn out
In general, those with more extreme views will be more likely to turn out to vote than those with centrist views. This means that it is easier for a firebrand populist to garner votes than a level-headed someone with experience and responsibility but who has problems communicating the complexity of the issues with the electorate.
This means that the one who stands up and declares "Let's close all the hospitals and eradicate disease, forever!" or promises "Zero taxes so you have more money in your pocket, let THEM pay for it!" or even "Get rid of the foreigners, empty our prisons and get jobs back!" will receive some very loud cheers and "yays".
In the UK, the Brexit campaign was staged to a backdrop of racism and lies, such as "350 million pounds a week for the National Health Service" (perhaps those promising this should be forced to pay it from their own pockets), slurs against "Islamization" and "Pakis" (Pakistanis, a racist heading encompassing Somalis, Eritreans, Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians, basically anyone wanting to emigrate to the UK, none of them being EU citizens) and idealistic nonsense about "taking our country back", whatever that means.
The tangible consequences of populism and absenteeism
Such arguments have consequences, and looking at the result of the 2019 European Parliamentary election, we see the following:
Right-Wing Nationalists (ENF) up from 37 members to 58
Populists (EFD) from 31 to 54
New or Unaffiliated MEPs up from zero to 29
True, the Greens rose from 52 to 69 seats and the center grew (unfortunately at the expense of the Left in general and also at the expense of the Conservatives to the right of center), however the Alt Right, Populists and Unaffiliated received 141 of the 751 seats. In other words, nearly 20 per cent. Hitler's Nazi Party peaked at just 37 per cent of the vote, yet he was swept to power on a populist ticket of Make Germany Great Again, Freedom, and Law and Order.
When people have nothing, or when they are dissatisfied with what they have, they will turn to the one who says "I understand you, I am one of you, let us make THEM change and I will deliver what you want". This is a blanket remedy for the jobless, homeless, hopeless, poor and anyone bored with the Establishment who wants to see something different, even those who want to see a political real-life version of the Simpsons in Congress or Parliament for entertainment.
While it is also true that people these days have bread on the table, clothes, universal schooling, universal healthcare and in general are not dying in thousands on the streets, the fact remains that the populist vote is increasing and with populism, comes extremism, and with extremism, comes imbalance, going against the grain of centuries of socio-economic and societal development.
Democracy requires education
The antidote to this is democracy. Real democracy, not the insult we see today in which most people have not a clue what they are voting for, what the policies of the party they are supporting are, what their vote represents in the European Parliament and to which Euro-groups their parties belong. They vote for "him" or "her", meaning the image of the Leader of the Party on television and nothing else.
Hence the ridiculous reasons given for voting or not, such as "Oh he does wear some nice ties", or "(s)he looks honest", or "I didn't vote Brexit, it's Latin, I voted Leave", or "It's the fish and chips, isn't it?" or "It's them Pakis" or whatever else in whatever country. And hence the Bolsonaros in Brazil and the Trumps in the USA. And Farage in the UK.
This does not mean that all those voting for them are idiots, what it does mean is that if the rest of the population is not careful, one day an idiot is going to be elected, if such has not already happened.
The solution is, again, education. If all schools adopted a program in which civil responsibilities and issues were taught, then people would have a clear idea when they reached voting age about what the political groups represented, how politics works at local, national and international levels, the benefits of each voting system and so on. If they understood the issues they would be more likely to vote and for sure the extremists would not disappear but would become fringe groups raising issues for the center to take up. This is called political maturity and a sustainable model of governance.
We are never going to get there if people do not get up and vote, either through educational programs or else because they are forced to by law, as in the case in Brazil.
Food for thought.
Photo: Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey works in the area of teaching, consultancy, coaching, translation, revision of texts, copy-writing and journalism. Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru since 2002, and now Co-Editor of the English version, he contributes regularly to several other publications in Portuguese and English. He has worked in the printed and online media, in daily, weekly, monthly and yearly magazines and newspapers. A firm believer in multilateralism as a political approach and multiculturalism as a means to bring people and peoples together, he is Official Media Partner of UN Women, fighting for gender equality and Media Partner with Humane Society International, promoting animal rights. His hobbies include sports, in which he takes a keen interest, traveling, networking to protect the rights of LGBTQI communities and victims of gender violence, and cataloging disappearing languages, cultures and traditions around the world. A keen cook, he enjoys trying out different cuisines and regards cooking and sharing as a means to understand cultures and bring people together.
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