Protest Votes are Sentinels of Democracy

Athenian democracy where theoretically the majority governs all equals and unequal alike, has been flawed from the very beginning. It has encouraged corruption and nepotism deep inside the echelons of power at the cost to the state and the people. The noble principle of democracy is not to be blamed for that, but fault rests with human deviousness and manipulation.

Political corruption has existed since ancient times but it flourished with the formation of the multi-party UK parliamentary system in the 19th century, with the Whigs and Tories being at each other’s throat for votes.

The notion “rule of the majority” was quickly seized by a plutocracy recognizing its enormous potential to gain power in an area where groups of citizens including a large portion of the population were marginalized from the political process.

In the city-state of Athens, non-Athenians and women, slaves and other people living there were excluded from the decision-making procedure and were prohibited from casting a vote but could express their freedom of speech in open spaces called Agora. Short of rebellion, citizens accepted the decisions (tyrannical or not) decreed by a minority class of the Athenian nobility as elected representatives of Ekklesia (Assembly).

It did not stop Thucydides at the time stating that: “All political parties claim to have the good of the community at heart, while in fact they all aim at political control and in the struggle for ascendancy, indulge in the worst excesses.”

Profound words indeed, which should be a good reminder when dealing with the politicians of our times and political parties!

Today, a vast sector of the population is also marginalized and deprived of the freedom of expression at the ballot box. Millions of voters feel betrayed and yet as active citizens are confronted with a dilemma: should they vote for party-candidates they don’t trust or should they simply abstain? The other option (god forbid) is to go out and cast a vote “none of the above”.

Abstention from voting is not the answer because it increases the proportion of the votes for the most popular candidate. But compelled to vote for questionable parties and politicians, morally and ethically is not the answer either! In fact it’s an insult to one’s own intelligence! Still, to go out and vote or not to vote, becomes a personal question knowing in the end, ¬come rain or snow, someone will get elected. For some, it’s the devil you know and the devil you don’t!

There is an argument that casting a blank-white vote is a lost vote! Under modern democracies that argument has validity and unless legitimized, blank-white votes will simply remain ineffective protest votes that cannot influence the outcome of elections.

Governments propagate the idea that it’s one’s “civic duty” to go out and vote irrespective of whether candidates are worthy or not. After all, that’s what democracy is all about – it demands a winner at any cost! But that’s where the problem lies; vast numbers of the electorate have lost confidence in a system that forgets the very reasons they were elected in the first place!

Viewed as a pinnacle of living a life in freedom, true democracy is a concept which people will never be able to fully comprehend, for it is ever evolving! A bastion of freedom and liberty, direct democracy was born out of critical self-disciplined thinking aimed at reasoning at the highest level in a fair-minded society; a society that has miles and miles to cross before becoming fair!

Modern politics hardly represents the ideal concept of democracy and the “one-party system” now exists camouflaged in many shades of grey without clarity. Because of that ambiguity, citizens’ apathy is on the rise and many resent engaging in the political arena.

Apathy however is not due to laziness or ignorance but due to bad politics and questionable behaviour of a political oligarchy protected by political immunity. Experience suggests that a person is as good as his/her word but unfortunately cabals of politicians have developed a reputation of not to be trusted; their word and promises have become meaningless or even a joke! This phenomenon has seen a massive growth and it’s not unique to one country, but has become a global problem that stems from inside the bowels of power, privilege and fame!

Citizens often find themselves turning their backs on the status quo and many choose to vote for either an extreme nationalistic party; exercise the right to abstain; or, simply turn up at the polls and cast a blank-white vote! Hence the low attendance at the voting booths!

Electoral statistics indicate a worrisome trend. Voter turn out at EU Elections in 2014 struggled to reach 42.54% and a dramatic decline from 62% in the 1979 elections. Source: TNS/Scytl via European Parliament. This shows that a small minority of the political elite actually governs the EU under a pseudo-democratic arrangement. What is most revealing there is a trend that people switch to blank-white vote as a way of protest and rejection of bad politics!

According to a recent poll in France at the 2017 elections, 40% of the French voters said they would cast a blank vote if it were recognized under French law. The same can be applied across all EU member states. Under those revelations it’s obvious that democracy indisputably suffers and is no longer representative “of the people, by the people and for the people”. That concept has always been a myth!

Under the existing balloting system a blank-white vote or none of the above does not count and has no impact on the outcome of elections. Although counted and noted as part of the official results, those votes are “invalid” and are discarded onto the rubbish heap!

A spate of spoilt votes however (a vote for nobody) could really start to worry the political establishment. If recognized, they could transform the entire political structure forever! The parties absolutely resist such radical changes – the way they resist lowering the voting age – in case their power-sharing relationship gets destabilized. It’s preferable to live in the farce of venerating the merits of flawed-democracy than to restore its credibility.

Blank-white votes acting as People’s Veto or No-confidence can actually restore democracy’s credibility and serve as a catalyst to attract better candidates rather than political opportunists. Like in a referendum, such votes supply the best if not the only possible check upon ill-conceived practices of “rule of the minority”.

The growing number of protest votes would ultimately compel the Electoral Commission to reappraise the question of blank-white ballots and review its role in a representative democracy.

If a majority of blank-white votes of No-confidence surpasses the benchmark of 50%, then the Electoral Commission could and should declare elections null and void by the sheer volume of protest votes counted. Such results would then justify calls for new elections to allow citizens to select candidates anew bypassing the hierarchy and political party nominations!

Theoretically, this is all fine and good but unless the Electoral Commission – an independent body that regulates and sets standards for well-run elections – officially recognizes blank-white votes in line with the rest of the ballots they will continue to remain constitutionally invalid! Therefore, it is the Commission’s role to legitimize blank-white votes as an integral part of the electoral process; a process that desperately needs to be revised!

In democracies across the world, it is often necessary to hold second and third rounds of voting before a winner is declared. This shows how farcical “rule by the majority” has become. No winner is elected by a majority but through a progressive selection of deals, plotting and counter plotting for votes under fierce negotiations and horse-trading held behind closed doors bartering people’s votes without their consent.

That’s how low democracy has been reduced to: “rule of the minority”! Blank-white votes if introduced into the statute books can in fact be viewed as sentinels of direct democracy and thereby have a critical role to play in society at large.