Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Election turnout should concern everyone who cares for our democracy

While I am delighted that Jim Nicholson regained his seat in the European election, all those who care about the political process will be concerned at the low turnout.

It is clear that recent events at Westminster with regard to MPs’ expenses have brought about a general disillusionment with politics and politicians.

Turnout figures in Northern Ireland were traditionally high, but have been declining, to the extent that at the European election, turnout slumped to 42.81%.

This can only be bad for democracy and should concern all true democrats.

As a unionist, I am particularly concerned at the low turnout rates in those constituencies which have strong unionist majorities, such as Lagan Valley, South Antrim, East Antrim, East Belfast, North Down and Strangford, where all saw a turnout of less than 40%.

If the trend continues, it would be possible to forsee a situation whereby Northern Ireland has a unionist majority, but the majority of elected representatives would be non-unionist, due to large numbers of unionists choosing to stay at home or not even registering to vote in the first place.

I believe that such a situation is not good for unionism and not good for Northern Ireland.

Just as it is vital that the individual citizen registers to vote and actually turns out to exercise that vote, so it is vital that politicians give people something to vote for in order to preserve a healthy and vibrant democratic process.

We have to engage with the electorate and demonstrate that we are relevant to their daily lives and can act to make a positive difference in terms of health education, employment etc. Devolution was supposed to bring government closer to the people it serves.

If we, as elected representatives, are failing, then we have to take a look at ourselves, and see what changes we can make to show people that we are worthy of their votes.

The alternative does not bear thinking about.

Billy Armstrong

UU MLA, Mid-Ulster

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