Belfast Telegraph

John McCallister: Concern over massive number of non-voters in NI in stark contrast to Germany

NI21 MLA says cause for concern as over 44% of people questioned say they would not vote

What caught your eye in last week's Belfast Telegraph opinion poll? The border or equal civil marriage results, the Queen's popularity or support for parties?

All of these were interesting (and, yes, I was very happy with the NI21 figures). But one figure is a cause of concern - 44.1%.

That is the percentage of those who say they would not vote. In some constituencies that figure is higher, closer to 50%. The poll confirms a worrying trend in Northern Ireland: nearly 1 in 2 citizens have opted out of the democratic process.

Compare this with the recent Germany's elections. Much media attention has rightly been on Angela Merkel's stunning victory. We should also be considering turnout - 73%. In other words, only 27% of German citizens didn't vote.

The contrast with Northern Ireland is stark. Germany knows from its past that you can't take for granted democratic norms, pluralism, and respect for diversity. All this needs a robust democratic system encouraging participation by an active democratic citizenry.

I know we can't compare our past with Germany's. But we also know, thinking about the Troubles and the past difficult year, that we can't take for granted peace, agreement, pluralism.

We hear from some politicians that we don't need to worry about non-voting. "It's just people getting used to peace and normality." I don't think we can accept that.

It's not good for democracy when nearly 50% of citizens find nothing in our politics to inspire democratic participation. We can't settle for this.

It's time to ask ourselves hard questions about how we do politics and what needs to be done differently if we are to see many more citizens encouraged to take their place in shaping our future.

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