Should Voting Be Compulsory?

Whether voting should be mandatory in a democratic country like Namibia should elicit a straightforward yes or no, but apparently it’s not that simple.

When demanding freedom from colonialism and apartheid, an overwhelming majority of Namibians agitated for universal suffrage and democracy, which is considered imperfect but the best governance system to draw citizens’ participation.

In a genuine or functional democracy, every citizen of voting age has the right to vote.

Yet in most democratic countries, voting rights are not backed by the responsibility of citizens to participate in choosing their leaders.

For instance, in Australia where mandatory voting or universal civic duty voting was first used in 1925, turnout for elections hovers around 90% of all registered voters.

Failing to vote can result in a fine or court action.

It is not clear whether a mandatory system encourages voters to find out what candidates and political parties stand for.

But it’s safe to argue that, at the very least, voters will be made aware of the momentous occasion and the process of going to the polls to elect their leaders or none-of-the-above (Nota).

At a time when so-called apathy appears to have taken hold in Namibia, or queues are discouragingly slow, there is a need to look at ways to make our elections more inclusive.

Even the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) emphasised the worrying trend of voters showing a lack of interest in Namibian elections.
For example, 532 287 out of 1,3 million eligible voters did not cast their votes in the 2019 national elections compared to the 18 600 who stayed away in 1989.

Over the years, the ECN has managed to register a larger number of people and we trust the same will happen now.

The concern is, unlike the enforced registration of cellphone SIM cards, people have no obvious incentive to go to the registration points.

In fact, people who don’t vote often claim they don’t go to the polls because there are no alternatives.

At the very least, a discussion needs to be had on whether all people of voting age in Namibia should be mandated to register to vote as registration is the basic step towards the polling booth and might very well instil a sense of responsibility and accountability towards democracy.

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