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A thousand explanations have been offered for the massive abstention of voters in the last regional elections in France. There has been talk of bugs in the distribution of the professions of faith; of a poor campaign; of obscure candidates; of political combinations by the parties; of vociferous debates; and of desperate citizens, especially among the most fragile and expecting nothing more from politics.
In my opinion, we are missing the essential, the simplest and the most enlightening explanation: the French did not feel like going to vote to elect leaders of communities whose responsibilities they don’t know and whose influence on their destiny they don’t see.
In fact, almost no one in the political class really made the effort to explain to them what the regions are for; they even focused the main debate on the question of security, which is not the responsibility of this territorial level. Voters had no reason to vote for people from whom they had no expectations. Moreover, the recent redrawing of these regions, which have become totally artificial, has further distanced voters from them. Finally, voters have the feeling that elected officials only do what they want, act in their own interest, and are not there to serve the citizens.
More generally, and beyond this election, this is the main signal that needs to be heard: the abstention rate in an election is a rational measure of voters’ perception of the influence of elected officials on their lives by taking their views into account.
And this is not just true of regional elections. Many people are also beginning to have doubts about the usefulness of the municipal level, because the real impact of the action of these authorities is increasingly complicated to define, due to the intertwining of responsibilities between the countless territorial levels. Many people also think that once elected, councillors serve their own interests first and foremost, and that there is nothing to expect from them.
At the national level, doubts are also beginning to arise, with the question increasingly being asked: what can the president really do? What are our MPs really responsible for? What can they really decide? How are they obliged to take into account the opinion of their constituents?
In fact, over time, presidential power has been eroded, and voters are beginning to understand this: much of its former power is now entrusted to local authorities, markets, independent authorities, and European institutions. The “coup de grâce” has been given by the reduction of its mandate, which makes it the homothetic double of a government itself dependent on a parliament emptied of most of its powers. Moreover, many people now believe that presidents, once elected, forget all their promises and do as they please.
If this is not remedied, mass abstention will win this last sanctuary, the presidential election. And French democracy will be finished.
We can therefore see that abstention is a vote like any other; a vote against the misuse of democracy. We can also see what needs to be done to remedy this trend: understand the message that this disaffection is sending us; explain clearly, and not just in the two months preceding an election, the concrete, real, pragmatic influence on the lives of voters of those elected to the posts in competition. To avoid, as much as possible, coffee shop debates on subjects that have nothing to do with the issues at stake. And hold elected officials permanently accountable for keeping their electoral promises.
If this had been done for the regions and departments, if they had shown examples of the projects they finance, of the colleges, of the high schools, of the allowances they allocate, if the incumbents had been able to demonstrate that they had kept their previous electoral promises, the electors would have understood that their destiny, in a democracy, depends largely on their vote; and that it would be disastrous for them to leave the responsibility to those who, having understood this, bother to go to the polls and put pressure on elected representatives so that they keep their commitments.