The history of parliamentary election turnouts in the past decade shows them increasing: in 2012 it neared 60 percent, while in 2010 it was nearly 59 percent. In the 2006 election it was the historically lowest turnout since 1989, at 54.67 percent.
The elections however do not attract young people and first-time voters, as indicated by several previously conducted polls. To change this, civic activists have launched several initiatives to raise the turnout of younger generation.
“Our aim is to involve young people in political process and show them they are the ones who may impact the future of Slovakia,” the team standing behind the NJBNT initiative told The Slovak Spectator.
Targeting young people
The election statistics confirm that the turnout amongst young people is much lower than that of the whole population. In 2012 elections, for example, just 38 percent of young people voted as compare to 59 percent of the overall population, the NJBNT team said.
Their initiative targets mostly people aged 18-35, whom they want to address with language they can identify with.
“We also know that young people like rebelling, so we tried to use this emotion in our communication – to raise the feeling that the rest of society is content with their passivity and that they let others make decisions instead of them,” the organisation team of NJBNT explained to The Slovak Spectator.
The apathy and negative approach of young generations to elections was the driving force for a group of students studying in the Czech Republic and Denmark to launch the Precovolit.sk website. Organisers also could not find information about why it is important to vote, even on the internet.
“Thus we started creating what we missed,” Jozef Sklenka and Karin Revajová told The Slovak Spectator.
The younger generation often lacks close ties to elections or politics, thus they try to explain why it is important to vote, Sklenka and Revajová added.
Another initiative mobilising voters and “everybody who cares about Slovakia’s future” is the Hráme O Veľa (There is Much to Play For) initiative, represented by lawyer Martin Vavrinčík, architect Matúš Vallo and head of the Open Society Foundation Ján Orlovský.
“The apathy and disinterest suits politicians who care more about themselves and their people than about the country and its citizens,” reads the initiative’s website.
A manual for undecided voters
Most of the initiatives target undecided voters via the internet. The initiators of Precovolit.sk also address students via teachers and student organisations, and place various posters around the Banská Bystrica Region.
The Hráme O Veľa initiative publishes videos in which various personalities explain why it is important to attend elections. Moreover, it prepared a manual designed for undecided voters. Since many undecided voters make last minute decisions on whether to vote or not, they suggest four simple and practical recommendations on how to decide properly on the election day, Vavrinčík explained to the TASR newswire.
The first recommendation is choosing trustworthy candidates. The second criterion is the party’s campaign platform. If neither individual figures, nor election platforms are convincing enough for these potential voters, they should ask people around them. The fourth point stated in the manual is information that “not voting means losing the opportunity to influence the country’s course, with the next such opportunity not arising until 2020”, Vavrinčík said, as reported by TASR.
The activists also launched a tour during which they want to distribute 100,000 manuals.
False “Mrs Mária”
A few weeks before the elections, a leaflet portraying an older lady and posing a question “Do you want Mrs Mária to decide about your future?” appeared on the internet.
With rigidly clenched lips and a slightly restrained look, Mrs Mária is not smiling in the photo. She is dressed fittingly for the season in a winter coat; and in a fur cap looks determined. She will apparently go to cast her vote and ruin the future of young people.
This is the basic message of the pre-election online leaflet. It, however, later emerged that the photo was stolen. The name of the woman in the picture in reality is not Mária and she will not vote in Slovakia, the Sme daily reported. The senior woman sat at a bench in Bennett Park in New York. Photographer Susan Sermoneta took her picture at that place on January 6, 2008, and it was not the first time. Sermoneta lives nearby and the lady also visits the park quite often.
Sermoneta posts her images on her website as well as at the photo portal Flickr, putting three conditions regarding licensing for her pictures: they cannot be used without her agreement, without putting her name with the image and for commercial reasons.
In this case somebody took this image and used it without her agreement and published it without the name of the author, cutting out the background with the playground.
Sermoneta has confirmed to Sme that nobody asked her for permission. Moreover, she is resolutely against using her photos for promoting any political stance without her agreement.
President also calls on people to vote
Meanwhile, President Andrej Kiska also urged the public to go to the polls and put the spotlight on the education and health-care sectors.
“I’m convinced that the education and health-care sectors should be in the foreground of the election campaigning,” Kiska said on February 2, as quoted by TASR. “This is what should be up for discussion and voters should ask every single political party in clear terms about their proposals and timeframe thereof for moving things forward.”
Kiska has also launched a website www.verejnaobjednavka.sk that translates literally as ‘Public Order’, with some more as yet unspecified initiatives set to be rolled out shortly. The site, which was created for the president as an individual by an advertising agency, has the appearance of an online store from which people are able to order specific measures in health care and education.
Kiska called his campaign non-political, rejecting notions that it might be directed against any particular parties. Nor is Kiska seeking to ultimately set up his own party, according to his statement.
Responses are positive
People standing behind the initiatives say they are surprised by the positive response they have received.
“We hope that many of them will actually go to the polls,” Sklenka and Revajová of Precovolit.sk said.
The campaigns may have a certain effect on young voters and first-time voters, says sociologist Oľga Gyárfášová of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). This could mainly help centre-right parties like Sieť, Most-Híd, SaS, and OĽaNO. Even so, the rise in the election turnout is not going to be very significant, she said.
“But also small differences can be decisive,” Gyárfášová told The Slovak Spectator in mid-February. “The small amounts that will decide about one or two mandates one way or another are important too. Small differences can have big consequences.”
More targeted campaigns
EXCEPT for the mobilisation campaigns, the internet offers more targeted initiatives focusing on certain problems in the society.
The campaign titled A Dosť! (Enough!) focuses on problems in education sector. It was created in September 2015 by people from non-governmental organisations dealing with education. One of its members is Stanislav Boledovič, founder of Teach for Slovakia organisation.
The main aim is to launch radical changes in education and school system, which is not in good condition. This is confirmed also by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose reports show Slovakia placing below the average of developed countries.
“This trend seriously endangers Slovakia’s future,” spokeswoman Stella Hanzelová told The Slovak Spectator.
The campaign targets both politicians and the public, she added.
“We hope that together with nation-wide efforts of teachers and other initiatives, our campaign has contributed to shaking the stagnant waters and to changing the perception of education in Slovakia,” Hanzelová said.
Štrngám za zmenu
The Štrngám za Zmenu (Jingling for Change) responds to low-quality of the state of law and the level of corruption in the country. According to its founders, politics are often managed by people in the background rather than those who have been elected.
“Politics is thus not the public service, but a business activity,” Milan Šagát, head of the Via Iuris think tank who is also member of the initiative, told The Slovak Spectator.
The main motif of the campaign is to reduce corruption and limit the possibilities of those with power to avoid laws. Šagát also pointed to examples from the Czech Republic, Romania or Croatia where politicians and lobbyists are investigated, prosecuted and punished for their misconduct. This, however, is not a common practice in Slovakia.
The initiative points to problems that allow these situations to happen, and proposes specific solutions. They addressed political parties and thus far, six of eight political parties have promised to support the proposals, also after elections. In the second phase they want to persuade them to have the recommendations included in the government’s statement and legislation plan, Šagát added.
“Another long-term plan is to make the public aware of the fight against systemic corruption and show people that this state negatively impacts their quality of life,” he said.
The initiative also wants to change the state so the participants in big scandals are punished and the public considers this normal.
25. Feb 2016 at 14:00 | Radka Minarechová