By RongXuan Tan
Remain or Leave? After months of campaigning, market fluctuation as pre-referendum polls to gauge voting intentions were conducted, a nation getting more divided, and a tragic death, the day of the referendum dawned on 23rd June. The British went to the polls, and Vote Leave won with a slight majority of 51.9%. This article is not to expound on the pros and cons of the United Kingdom remaining in or leaving the European Union (EU), but to raise the importance of youths – who are known to be politically apathetic – exercising their right to vote.
Immediately after the referendum result was set in the stone, British youths took to social media to express their anger and disappointment at the outcome. Sixteen and seventeen year olds also protested over the fact that they were not allowed to vote and had no say in this decision that would affect the rest of their lives. Many young people are calling Brexit a betrayal by the older generations who have less to lose and will not have to live with the consequences of leaving the EU for as long a time. Young people were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, with 75% of young people voting to remain in the referendum. However, they failed to turn up to vote in sufficient numbers; only an estimated 36% of 18-24 year olds voted. The poor showing among the youths allowed the older generation – the majority of whom supported Brexit – to seal their fate.
One lesson to take away from this for youths all over the world is that through our vote, we have a political voice, and this vote is something we should not waste and should instead wield actively when the time comes. We should not naively believe that everyone else will vote and the final outcome would be what we have hoped for, and thus there is no need to vote or that we can vote irresponsibly, nor should we be politically apathetic. Regardless of whether it is a referendum or an election, all this will affect your country and by default you. Being engaged in politics through a simple act of voting can help to ensure that the outcome and its consequences is something you have chosen for yourself and would be best for you – or even something that you have tried your best to avert – rather than having to bear the brunt of a decision made by someone else and regretting not having voted in the first place.
In Japan, the House of Councillors elections are round the corner, and the voting age has been reduced from 20 to 18 years old. Two and a half million 18 and 19 year-olds can now vote for the upcoming elections, which is especially important as a national referendum to amend Article 9 of the Constitution can be called if the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition secure a two-thirds majority. However, how many of these new voters – and young people in general – will exercise their right to vote? Japan’s young voters are not particularly active, with less than 33% of those in their 20s voting in the 2014 general election. In contrast, voter turnout for those in their 60s and over 70s were 68% and 60% respectively. The low turnout rate among young Japanese voters have led political parties to focus on older voters, but this is hardly beneficial to Japanese society as a whole. With political parties courting elderly voters with generous pension and other welfare benefits, Japan’s national debt has ballooned as the country ages, and this debt is something young voters will have to shoulder in the future.
A Japanese friend I spoke to recently said he will not vote as he does not know enough to make an informed decision, and a recent NHK survey echoed similar sentiments among new voters. I say do your research, that’s what Google is there for! Keep up with the news, look up party manifestos and what each party stands for, think critically to determine if the promises made are feasible – unlike in Brexit where people were lured by false promises – and ultimately decide which is the best choice. And in the absence of a choice you will willingly put your all behind, employ the minimax strategy and vote to avoid the worst outcome.
Our forefathers fought long and hard for democracy and for “one person, one vote”. We, the youths, who will bear the brunt of any negative repercussions and who will be the ones at the helm in the future, should not let our right to vote go to waste.