EDITORIAL

The apathy blame game

SLOVAKIA managed to avoid serious trauma despite posting the lowest ever voter turnout in the recent European Parliament elections. At 13 percent, Slovakia was the most uninterested nation in the European Union and pundits were busy pondering why it was possible for someone to reach the EP with as few as 14,896 votes. The explanations vary, but the fact that this is a real crisis for democracy is not in question.

SLOVAKIA managed to avoid serious trauma despite posting the lowest ever voter turnout in the recent European Parliament elections. At 13 percent, Slovakia was the most uninterested nation in the European Union and pundits were busy pondering why it was possible for someone to reach the EP with as few as 14,896 votes. The explanations vary, but the fact that this is a real crisis for democracy is not in question.

The blame game followed the vote, with Prime Minister Robert Fico and Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission and commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration, directing much of it at the media for what they called its failure to explain the importance of European issues, and “that it is not only about [prescribing the curvature of] cucumbers and bananas”.

Of course, journalists can always do more to bring the EP closer to the people and show them how those they send to the EP impact a number of crucial issues.

“The enduring disinterest of the media in the European agenda, which is often extraordinarily important, but is being presented in an unattractive and uninteresting way, has also underscored the record-low participation of the voters,” Fico said in an official release on May 26.

In an apparent attempt to boost the turnout, the Sme daily called on its readers to take ‘selfies’ during the vote and post them on social sites or send the digital images to the editorial department to show people that “voting can be fun”.

For several consecutive weeks, the daily ran surveys featuring responses by leaders of eight EP candidate slates. Then it ran interviews with more detailed views of all key leaders, but one - that of the ruling party Smer. Fico has blacklisted Sme and he seemingly applied this ban for more than just himself within the party.

The media had no EP election craze per say, but the public service Slovak Television and Radio (RTVS) ran dozens of debates with top candidates of the most hopeful parties. Interviews, debates, charts on the performance of Slovakia’s MEPs, and instructions on how to vote were offered by other dailies, and television and radio stations as well.

If there is an impression within the Slovak public that European issues aren’t the hottest topics, it is also because very few parties have made these a part of their key agenda.

If there is an impression that MEP chair posts are treated as rewards to political figures for service to their parties or as storage places for politicians deemed inconvenient at the national level but who cannot yet be sent into retirement, it is because that is precisely what the parties have done. Here the media can do very little other than report about these tendencies.

Then there is the issue of election fatigue that has taken hold across the country, with EP elections scheduled just weeks after the two-round presidential vote, and local elections to come later this year. It makes sense to combine some of these votes to save public funds, not to mention to encourage more people to head to the polls. Politicians would need to take action on something like this as well.

Instead, most parties were busy declaring their success in the elections as they searched for signs of their relevance in the results.

Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) Chairman Pavol Frešo promptly interpreted the numbers as a sign of an increasing trend of trust among the voters in his leadership. The two candidates of his party collected a grand total of 40,351 votes.

Numbers like that are a sign of trust – if we are talking about an election in a midsized town, rather than a nationwide vote to determine the country’s representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg.
One might ask, does it matter at all? Will those backed by a larger mass of people do more relevant work than the one who failed to pick up even 20,000 votes? Does the fact that Slovakia did not give mandates to extremists or closet neo-Nazis compensate for the low turnout?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, if Slovakia wants to boost turnout for the next EP elections, perhaps it is worth starting work on these issues now, instead of again having political leaders appear out of the blue just a few weeks before the actual vote.

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