By Fernanda Gabriela López Paguaga - Student of International Relations
Voting is one way in which citizens can participate and use their rights in a democracy. However, have you ever thought that electoral abstentionism damages your country’s democracy, and limits your rights by not using it? In 2020, the municipal elections of Costa Rica went through 64,1% of abstentionism (Meneses, 2020), because citizens did not give that much importance to this type of election. For this reason, it is essential for a democracy to have mechanisms to reduce electoral abstentionism in order to have active citizen participation.
Municipal elections most of the time go through high levels of abstentionism. There are a lot of factors that prevent citizens from voting and being interested in this political issue, where the main ones are “distrust of politics or electoral processes, apathy, and the lack of knowledge of government plans” (Madrigal, 2021, para. 7). In addition, “the lack of political financing for municipal elections affects aspects such as the inability of parties to offer their government programs in the massive media” (Muñoz Portillo & Petri, 2008, p. 8). All these factors are restricting the active participation of citizens, and not allowing candidates to be known, which does not contribute to a democratic constitution, so an improvement must be sought.
There are long-term mechanisms that the State of Costa Rica should implement in order to increase the percentage of voters. A citizen education program would make citizens and especially young people aware of the importance of voting, taking it as an opportunity to exercise political rights. But doesn't Costa Rica already have a program?
Yes, it does have one named “Democracy training workshops” that has many flaws and does not work properly, this training lasts eight hours of which adults do not spend their time, and does not attract the attention of young people. Due to this, a new program should be created that includes election simulations in schools and universities, making students feel as an active part of the system, becoming familiar with the democratic process, and developing the habit of voting (UNDP, 2017).
On the other hand, Costa Rica uses mandatory voting as a mechanism. Nevertheless, people that do not vote face no direct consequences (Murillo, 2017), making it ineffective. An alternative mechanism would be a communication campaign through “a simple and relatively inexpensive way to reach different audiences which is viral videos of short duration” (UNDP, 2017, p. 34), motivating people to vote. Moreover, to have this kind of campaign, it is necessary political financing in the municipal elections. The political financing system must include these types of processes, carrying them out equitably where even the smallest parties are supported, and that public spending does not increase so much (Muñoz Portillo & Petri, 2008). This contribution must also help institutional strengthening, stimulating, and educating candidates. Those mechanisms can prevent consequences that may indirectly affect the governance of the country.
The State, Civil Society, and Political Parties have the tools to reduce abstentionism to have active electoral participation in a democratic society. The evident large percentage of abstentionism in the 2020 municipal elections is a point of reference to create a diagnosis and implement different mechanisms according to every context. A common mistake is not giving the necessary support to electoral parties and considering the population as a homogeneous group, because each set of inhabitants requires a different approach since the reasons why they do not vote are not always the same (UNDP, 2017). Make people use their rights, and their ability to influence collective decision-making is not easy, that is why everyone must contribute starting by being educated about the importance of elections.
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Madrigal, F. (2021). Abstencionismo en Costa Rica: Elecciones Municipales. Revista Mundo Electoral. https://revistamundoelectoral.com/articulointernacional/abstencionismo-en-costa-rica-elecciones-municipales/
Meneses, J. (2020). Elecciones municipales de Costa Rica 2020. IDEA. https://www.idea.int/es/news-media/news/es/elecciones-municipales-de-costarica-2020
Muñoz Portillo J.M. & Petri D.P. (2008). Análisis político de las elecciones municipales de 2002 y 2006. Revista de Derecho y Administración Municipal. https://platformforsocialtransformation.org/download/socialdialogue/Munoz-Petri-Analisis-politico-de-las-elecciones-municipales-de-2002-y-2006.pdf
Murillo, A. (2017). Costa Rica’s elections 2018: a primer. The Tico. https://ticotimes.net/2017/12/18/costaricas-elections-2018-primer
UNDP. (2017). Promoviendo la participación electoral: Guía de buenas prácticas internacionales. https://www.undp.org/content/dam/chile/docs/gobernabilidad/undp_cl_gobernabilidad-texto-Guia-Buenas-Practicas-Elec.pdf