Time to line up and vote

We are not legally obliged to vote but voting remains our civic duty. But what does it really mean? And what does it mean for us Maltese in particular? Typically in our country, national elections draw large numbers of voters compared to local elections. It is good to remind one and all that voting was not always a default right for all Maltese. If you ever think that just one vote in a sea of thousands cannot make much of a difference, consider some of the closest elections in Maltese history.

Granted, the last two elections yielded unexpected and surprisingly wide majority gaps but the most basic act of citizenship remains participation in the electoral process by voting.

Education in our modern times should be less about acquiring a fixed body of knowledge and more about developing skills in critical thinking and applying those skills as active citizens. Consequently, the value of education goes well beyond the individual benefits. An educated citizenry supports democratic norms and a more robust civic life. With a great probability that future generations will be having the right to vote at a younger age than that prescribed by law today, more emphasis should be made to educate our students to be active and effective citizens on campus and beyond, including in our democratic government.

More emphasis should be made to educate our students to be active and effective citizens on campus and beyond

During past election times, we must surely have been bombarded by politicians and affiliated activists expressing the idea that voting is important without fully or correctly explaining why that is the case. To many of our students, and to too many Maltese, voting appears to be fruitless and unlikely to make a difference.

The last two elections were not closely decided, but that does not mean that one’s vote does not matter. The very act of voting is a form of civic responsibility and the exercise of a right for which our ancestors had to fight. For many Maltese, voting is their only form of civic engagement.

As Europeans, it is part of our common creed that the government’s legitimacy is based on the consent of the governed. Yet, without any formal rites of citizenship, Maltese who do not gain citizenship through the naturalisation process never explicitly avow their consent to be governed; instead, we accept the idea of tacit consent. Voting is one of the few opportunities for most Maltese to weigh in and express one’s preference on the direction of government, thereby recogniasing the legitimacy of the government through participation in the process.

I may be among the few who love the political campaign season. Campaigns are opportunities for political parties and office seekers to express visions of and ambitions for our collective lives, and as voters, we are able to question those candidates, express our own thoughts on the politics of the day, and eventually select whom we wish to represent us moving forward. We choose whose vision most closely represents our own. And we do this together. And still, many Maltese do not even engage enough to vote.

There are many reasons why young adults turnout is lower than that of older adults. Young adults are often more transitory, less settled than older citizens. They may be away at University, settling into new jobs, or finding their place in a community as adults for the first time. Sometimes I would think of attributing the lower participation rate for younger voters to apathy, lethargy, and general disinterest in public affairs.

Young adults are often more transitory, less settled than older citizens.

Often, I perceive a visceral antipathy toward politics, noting that younger voters are less likely to attach to any political party or overtly political movement. It could be that students simply lack the necessary civic knowledge and perhaps by including politics and government in their curriculum we could overcome the barriers to voting.

Young people, our students, are as informed as most voters, and they often understand the importance of voting as well as the average voter. But when students see campaign ads, when they are greeted by candidates, when they attend political events or public meetings, and when they think of voting, they do not see representations of themselves. They are not always comfortable venturing into this new area where they perceive most everyone else to be better informed and to belong. We know that when voters start at a young age, they are more likely to remain active voters for a lifetime.

Voting is one of the primary ways people participate in democracy. Through voting, we are able to have our voices and opinions heard and have a say in who our leaders will be. These concepts are important to explain to our younger generations. As they get older, they will understand better the differences between political parties and opinions. This is when explaining things can get trickier.

It is important to introduce the idea early that politics are not black and white, that opinions on important topics should be part of their decision on whom to vote for, not just because of the party the candidate is affiliated with.

In the current political climate, it can be hard to field open and understanding conversations with others about politically relevant topics. Even for most adults, having respectful disagreements can be challenging. Whatever our age, we must ensure to have open conversations with our peers about politics without it becoming a fight.

Battle lines are being drawn between our main political parties. In reality, however, the situation can turn out to be surprisingly more complex and heterogeneous than this simple two-way battle for power between them.

Voters can change their opinions from one election to the next. And they may even decide not to vote as they would have become disillusioned with this ‘winner-takes-all’ battle.

Sometimes whom you vote for may not get elected, but that is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and it should not discourage us!

Talk is cheap, voting is free; take it to the polls.

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