“Sure they’re all the same,” is a common refrain among the plain people of Ireland in the run-up to election time. Understandably, we are disgruntled with the state of the nation. Disappointed in our leaders. Let down by the very politicians we elected last time in a spirit of buoyant optimism. Ground down by redundancy, wage cuts, salary freezes, relentless new taxes, and charges. Disheartened by scandals of greed and corruption exposed within charities, policing and other trusted agents of the State. We are nursing our wounds, and how dare politicians come seeking our blessing for more of the same?
So it is understandable how many who have voted conscientiously all their lives might feel that by not voting today, they are making a principled and political statement. A passive resistance. A noble silence, instead of a noble call. It is also important to acknowledge that voting is not a duty or a civic obligation. It is a right, and citizens have just as much right not to vote. So, why should we bother vote for any of “that shower”?
For many reasons, but firstly, because politicians are not all the same. Yes, there are power-hungry gougers and gombeens, promising miracles and talking out all sides of their mouths in their search for a seat. But a simple Google probe of the records of your local candidates will reveal those who actually work on your behalf. There exist politicians who are honest and tireless, who want to listen to the problems of ordinary people and try their best to fix them. Politicians who have foregone their rightful pension or salary privileges as a gesture of solidarity with those who are suffering. Politicians who campaign for people who have failed to get justice and feel they have nowhere left to turn. MEPs who have brought petitions to Brussels until the Irish Government has been shamed or penalised into corrective action. If you do not vote for these politicians, who will represent you and advance your local or national interests? What hope is there of influencing our own governance if you choose not to use your vote?
Before deciding not to vote, consider very briefly the wider historical and global perspective. The right to vote was hard won, even in Ireland. There are still many in the world who live in dictatorships and do not enjoy that right, or who vote in vain knowing their elections will be rigged. In Ireland at least, we are all equal on election day. The richest and the most disadvantaged have one and the same vote.
Pre-election polls show extremism is on the rise in the European Parliament. Consider not just the record of MEPs at home, but their allegiances in Brussels. Their political groupings within the parliament will be influenced by your vote.
If you are not sure whom you want in power, perhaps you are more sure of whom you don’t want in power?
Voting will be open between 7am and 10pm today, Friday May 23, at polling stations around the country. First results for the Euros are expected on Sunday.