Is democracy broken?

NICK BRUECHLE is an author and advertising writer who lives in Palmyra, and often works and frequently plays in Fremantle. As a keen observer of global politics, Bruechle sees how declining trust in democracy can undermine safety and security at every level, and he is concerned that voter apathy can eventually lead to more volatile responses.

A SERIES of shock results in elections around the world over the last couple of years – notably the Brexit referendum, the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, and Theresa May’s loss of majority in the recent British poll – seem to point to a growing problem with democracy.

Put bluntly, it would appear that the “wrong” results keep popping up – at least according to our media.

So what’s behind it, and what does it mean for our quiet little corner of the world?

I think the answer is spreading apathy, borne of the conviction that it doesn’t matter how you vote, things won’t change. The US election in 2016 had the lowest voter turnout for the last 20 years. In the Brexit referendum, 33million people voted – but a further 31m didn’t bother to enrol or vote.

And look at the change not voting created. It allowed a motivated voter bloc to dictate to the non-voting public almost the exact outcome many of them didn’t want. And now those non-voters are up in arms.

Closer to home, our average voter turnout for local government elections in 2015 was just 25.9 per cent.

So far in this election, it appears the figures will be down again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Melville election returns figures were better than those for Fremantle, because the city of Melville at least mounted a small campaign encouraging people to vote.

In such small electorates, a handful of votes can make a huge difference. In the 2013 election in Fremantle, the highest winning margin was 387 votes; the lowest just 172. Every single vote counts.

The lesson for Western Australians is clear – if you care at all about what happens, you need to vote, if only to avert the outcome you don’t want.

You need to research your candidates, discover their plans and experience, and try to determine their incentives and weaknesses.

Examine their political and ideological loyalties, and consider where they will take policy in your electorate. And place your vote.

The answer to the headline question is, no, democracy is not broken.

But our belief in it may be. Get your belief back, and play a positive role in what’s happening in your city.

No vote means no voice, and no basis for complaints later.

In other words, a little apathy now can turn into four years of angst later.

While it’s too late for postal ballots, if it’s skipped your mind – or I’ve helped change it and kicked you out of your apathy, – you can still head down to the polling booths at your local council today, Saturday October 21.

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