Compulsory Voting Could Revitalise Our Politics

Article excerpt

NORTHERN Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has received deserved criticism over his handling of affairs since he took over the Stormont portfolio, particularly in relation to meeting the reasonable demands of the unionist community.

Mr Hain, however, is on solid ground with his suggestion that voting should be made compulsory, not just in Northern Ireland, but across the United Kingdom.

Such a move would revitalise British politics and provide a true and accurate barometer of who actually represents the people. It might well provide an election result that would withstand all challenges.

Compulsory voting, along accepted western democratic lines, applies in Australia, Belgium and Luxembourg, and a British acceptance of this procedure could result in a radical political sea change.

The average voting percentage in elections in Northern Ireland is usually above 60, and in some highly- polarised west-of-the-Bann constituencies this can be as high as 80 per cent, much greater that the apathetic 40 to 50 per cent turn-outs in British mainland polls.

Mr Hain's suggestion emanates from a recommendation by Government think- tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, which says voters should be forced to go to the ballot box in elections.

Official insistence on the civic duty to vote would have to be backed up by penalties for those who ignore the directive, and it is in this area that Government could face real difficulties of enforcement. …