Published On: Tue, Mar 21st, 2017

The silent majority

The gap between politics and “the people’ has been a subject for debate in many countries. This weekend we witnessed the size of this gap on the French side of the island where citizens had the opportunity to vote in the territorial elections. With a turnout of 42.4 percent politics sustained a severe black eye, because almost six out of ten eligible voters opted to stay home or do something else than exercising their democratic rights.

The winner of the first round of these elections, Team Daniel Gibbs scored a seemingly impressive 49.2 percent of the vote; but that percentage refers to the people who bothered to take part in the elections.

In reality four out of five eligible voters did not vote for the winner; they cast their vote elsewhere or they did not vote at all.

This casts a shadow over the legitimacy of Gibbs’ political mandate, assuming that he will steamroll the other contenders in the second round as well.

The question is obviously: whose fault is that?

After all voting is a right, not an obligation. And the people who did not go to the polls on Sunday may have thought that their vote won’t make a difference anyway.

The numbers tell a different story: more voters stayed home than all votes cast combined. So of course these voters could have made a difference.

The thing is – they didn’t.

In the Netherlands, a journalist for the Volkskrant interviewed people in a neighborhood where the populist PVV won a lot of votes in the March 15 parliamentary elections. In the old days, this was a traditional PvdA-stronghold. But times have changed – the traditional laborer does not exist anymore in the Netherlands, at least not in numbers that could have saved the disintegrated PvdA.

An 86-year-old resident of that neighborhood told the reporter: “I don’t vote anymore. Before the elections you are everything to these people and after the elections you can drop dead.”

That this is a ticking time bomb, few people seem to realize. When politics is too much about institutionalized actions and hardly about the people that are going to feel its effects, something will start brewing sooner or later. And when all hell breaks loose, the politicians that have ignored citizens’ real interests for many decades will appear on talk shows with lame explanations and the announcement of repressive measures.

On the Dutch side we are not there yet. In the elections in September, the turnout was 65 percent; of the 22,302 eligible voters, 14, 596 went to the polls. The 7,706 voters who stayed home most likely thought that their vote would not make a difference. Yet, with a quota of 947 these votes would have been good for 8 seats in Parliament. Talk about the silent majority.