12/06/10

Firstly, I wish to apologize to all my non-Belgian readers (all one of you). The topic I am going to discuss relates to the Belgian Federal Election tomorrow, however, some of what I’m going to say relates to every democracy out there.

Anyway, on to the main course. As I said, tomorrow are Federal Elections in Belgium, and I find that among most of my peers this raises the question ‘who am I going to vote for?’ There are several possible answers to that. Firstly, there is not voting at all, be it through making a blank or illegal vote or simply not showing. The past government screwed up royally on a lot of things, and many people feel the best way to show their displeasure of the situation is by protest-voting in this manner.
Secondly, there is voting for the party or politicians you think align best with your points of view. This can be done by studying each party’s platform and proposition and making a decision based on that, or by getting swept away by charismatic figures or simple slogans.
Thirdly, there’s voting for the largest party of your general political alignment. This is either the socialist party, the liberal party, the christian-democrat party or the Flemish-nationalist party.

Now, I’m not a great fan of democracy in it’s current concept. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t think a system where my opinion, the opinion of someone with a 140+ IQ, the opinion of someone who reads every bit of political propaganda and news she can get her hands on and bases her decision on that is worth just as much as the opinion of every random fuckwit who wouldn’t know political left from right if they each bit him in the corresponding arse-cheek. And the random fuckwits who wouldn’t know political left from right if they each bit them in the corresponding arse-cheek are legion in this country.
However, this is the way this country runs, and that’s the way it’ll have to be done. Acknowledging that, I don’t think adopting an anti-political stance is a healthy thing to do. Your right to vote is your right to voice your opinion on how you want this country to be run. If you disagree with how the previous government did it, then it is your duty to vote for someone who will do differently. Who will do better. If you don’t, then you’re saying ‘I don’t care. Do what you want’. If you don’t vote, that means you have no opinion on the matter. This also means that you give up your right to complain. This is very important. The people who complain the most about the state of our politics are the people who are most likely not going to vote. As a result, their disgruntlement with the current situation will be ignored (and rightfully so) and I can bet now that when someone gets in power they don’t like, they’re going to be complaining more about it. And I’ll be forced to tell them to shut their yaps. You don’t want to help solve to problem? You don’t get to complain if the problem isn’t solved. The same is true everywhere. If, for example, you want your shed painted, but you refuse to paint it yourself or pay someone to paint it for you, you don’t get to complain about how it isn’t painted yet. The same goes for politics.
The point being: not voting is only an option if you TRULY don’t give a shit. If you do care about how this country is run, it is your damned duty to vote for whoever you think will do best. That’s how democracy works.

Another recurring theme: voting for small versus large parties. Belgium is a country with a humongous amount of political parties. I believe the Flemish lists will have about ten or twelve. Then something of those numbers again over in Wallonia. Both sides have a socialist party, a liberal party, a christian democrat party, a green party, etc. Flanders also has a heap of nationalist parties: There’s be New-Flemish Alliance, the biggest Nationalist party, there’s the Flemish Cause, a quasi-fascist racist group that used to be big, and most smaller parties have separation between Flanders and Wallonia in some way among their campaign points. There’s also a small pseudo-communist party, the Party of Labour, as well as several others.  I admit I know next to nothing about the Wallonian parties, because I can’t vote for them. At all. However, the largest Flemish parties, according to the polls, are in order: New Flemish Alliance, the Christian Democrat & Flemish party, Socialist Party-Different (*shrug*) and the Open Flemish Liberal-Democrats. The reaction most people have is to vote for one of these, because voting for anything else would be ‘a waste of your vote’. The pseudo-communist party I mentioned will barely reach the minimum to have a seat, so voting for them would be silly.
I disagree. People who say that voting for small parties is a waste of votes do so out of a belief that their vote is the most important thing in the political system. Technically it isn’t. There is a paradox when it comes to the importance of a vote. YOUR vote is the most important thing YOU have to affect the political course, but when compared to all the other millions of votes out there, it means NOTHING. If you, as a single person vote for a large party or not, it will affect nothing. Your vote will not alter the amount of seats that party gains, or affect the government in any way. If you, alone, give your vote to a small party, it won’t help them either. However, the logic people who want to vote for a small party, but won’t because it’ll be a ‘waste’ reason that they’d be the only one to vote for that party. If EVERYONE who wants to vote for a small party actually voted for that party, that party might become big enough to send an elected representative or two to the parliament, and affect how this nation is governed. If YOU say that YOU won’t vote for a party because they won’t get elected anyway, then YOU are part of the problem.

The same was true in the United Kingdom a while ago. The amount of people who said ‘I want to vote LibDem, but I won’t because they won’t get elected’ is huge. If all of those people actually voted LibDem, their share of votes would’ve increased dramatically, their opinions would’ve mattered more when they co-created British government, and the direction it took would’ve been drastically different. Instead these people cowered behind the urban legend that a vote for a small party is a wasted vote, and in the process screwed up the LibDems chances of doing something that will matter. And so it will be in Belgium. People will flock to the big parties, because they’re ‘safe’, leaving the smaller parties that might more acurately represent their opinions by the wayside.

Now, this wouldn’t be an entry in my blog without some profanity, so: fuck
And finally I’d like to call on everyone who lives in a country that will have elections in the future to
-do your research properly
-decided based on that who is most deserving of your vote
-bloody VOTE for them

~Helena

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10 thoughts on “12/06/10

  1. Harshy says:

    Regarding your point about the UK, it’s interesting to relate it to what the French political scientist Duverger had to say about electoral systems. He noted that, in addition to the mechanical effect of an electoral system on the seat outcome (ie, how the system actually translates the votes into seats), there is also what he termed the “psychological effect”, which you described in a nutshell about the Liberal Democrats. “I won’t vote for party x because you’re not” is a vicious circle.

    Single Member Constituency systems, like the UK, inevitably produce two party systems, Duverger concluded, and he was right. My guess is that almost any combination of the three main UK parties (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) would have a realistic chance at governing if we moved to PR or MMS (I prefer the latter myself). With PR/MMS, people will realise that a vote for any party, even smaller ones, will count. For the UK, this will benefit the Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP and the BNP the most. As the recent Dutch election demonstrated, far-right parties do do well under PR for whatever reason, but that is probably a price worth paying.

    So yes, an excellent post. Political science supports your conclusions!

  2. Mycroft says:

    Don’t agree on all points, though most of them are VERY sound.

    But there’s the difference between blanco-voting, and not voting.
    You seem to put them together, being the same.

    Voting blanco is saying “I don’t care, whichever one wins”. Those people don’t get to complain.

    Not voting, on the other hand, is a protest against the political system, of which the non-voter refuses to be a part. I can see the sense in that.

    Voting blanco is doing nothing. Not voting is making a statement, which will only matter if a lot of people do it. Just like voting for small parties.

    • Tyranna says:

      And statements are all very pretty, but they don’t do anything. To continue with the analogy of the painted shed: you can piss in your bucket of paint as a statement that you want your shed painted, but I’m fairly certain that won’t make it happen.

      The most effective way to bring about change is to vote for change. That implies voting.

      • Mycroft says:

        How about regarding a non-vote as a vote to not voting?

        A vote is nothing more than a statement saying: “I want them, mommy”.
        Individually, the do nothing 😉

      • Tyranna says:

        Indeed. And as I said, voting blank, is voting you don’t give a damn. Which is fine if you don’t give a damn.

  3. Mycroft says:

    tut-tut
    voting blanco isn’t the same as not voting 🙂

    • Tyranna says:

      Technically it is. Blank and illegal votes are ignored when counting. Only legal votes are counted, and the total amount of votes goes down.

      Say you have 100 people who legally can vote. 80 of them vote. 10 of them don’t vote, and 10 vote blank. Only the 80 are counted and instead of each voter representing 1% of the final result, each of the 80 voters now represents 1.25% of the end results, why the other 20 aren’t represented at all.

      No seats will be kept empty because people didn’t vote, or voted blank, the fact that they didn’t vote will in no way be reflected on how parliament will look like and how the government will be formed. At the most a debate will ensue about the ‘problematic state of the faith in democracy’ but in all honesty, that debate will yield no tangible results, not in the same way that voting for a proper party might.

  4. Mycroft says:

    Voting Blank votes towards whoever has the most votes. That’s how I saw it.
    But not only that.
    Say… 50% of the people voted blank: whoever has the most votes wins.
    But if 50% votes illegal, well… anarchy: no elections 🙂

  5. Tyranna says:

    I’m afraid your first sentence is an urban legend. Voting blank/illegally simply means your vote isn’t counted, and the share of the other votes goes up. This is of greatest advantage of the biggest party, yes, but still quite different than your vote going to the biggest party.

    Again with my previous example. 20 voters did not bring out a legal vote. 80 did. Of those 80 45 voted for the party A. 35 for party B. Normally this would mean neither party is big enough to form a majority. However, since every vote is now worth 1.25% of the seats, instead of 1% (since the electorate is smaller) party A gets 56.25% of the seats (rather than 50) and party B gets 43.75%, rather than 30. Not voting/voting blank/illegally increased either party’s share of seats, but gave the biggest party the biggest advantage. In this case by giving it a majority it should not have. And this is where the urban legend comes from. The non-votes, however, do not go straight to the biggest party. If they did, party A would get 65% of the seats, while party B would get stuck with 35%.

    This is ofcourse a simplified example. In a system like Belgium, which has 7 major parties (4 in Flanders, 3 in Wallonia) and millions of voters (rather than one hundred) the math gets more complicated. But it boils down to the same principle: non-votes (and this is ANY non-vote. Blank and illegal votes and abstentions (plain not showing up) are all considered the same) are excluded from the counting and cause every other vote to become a little bit more powerful.
    Case in point: in election results, they show a number representing the non-votes. They don’t show separate numbers for blank votes, illegal votes and abstentions.

    I don’t know what would happen if 50% were non-votes, however I believe the people who were elected by the 50% that did vote would drastically reconsider the system. In such numbers it would have an affect, yeah. However, I don’t consider it to be worth it and with the current tally of 6% non-votes (boo), in this heavily anti-political environment we live in, I believe we are still far off from that happening.

    To you silly pro-FPtP British readers: note how I use PR in my examples. This is because PR is the ONLY fair election system.

    • Mycroft says:

      Okay then 🙂

      Still, the only reason there’s only 6% of non voters, is the same reason the communist party is a laughing stock. People don’t think it’ll matter. I mean, *I* voted.

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