EU elections: Slovakia strives to reverse ‘sad turnout’

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In an attempt to boost voter turnout at the upcoming European elections, Slovakia is launching a campaign to mobilise first-time electors and capitalise on the ripple effects of young people’s involvement. EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

Turnout in Slovakia for the 2004 elections was the lowest in the EU at just 17%, with less than two in ten Slovaks casting their ballot. To address this, Slovakia is launching a European Parliament-funded project, which aims to use innovative means to inspire young people to take a stand in what is seen as a ‘super electoral year’. 

Indeed, in 2009, Slovaks will go to the polls to vote in presidential, regional and European elections within a short period of time. 

Róbert Hajšel, director of the European Parliament’s information office in Bratislava, believes every effort must be made to avoid a repeat of 2004, when Slovakia had the “saddest record in the history of the European Parliament elections in that only 17% of voters turned out”. The low turnout was even more disturbing given that 2004 was the first time Slovaks had been asked to choose their fourteen representatives in the EU assembly, Hajšel added. 

As for this year’s elections, the prospects look anything but positive, with only 15% of citizens determined to go to the polls, according to the latest Eurobarometer figures. This is the second lowest number in the EU. 

“6 June will probably be a nice summer Saturday, and many people will prefer to go to the water rather than the polls,” explained Slovak MEP Sergej Kozlík. Indeed, fears are rife in Slovakia that first-time voters may not bother to turn out. 

The campaign, funded by the EU assembly and entitled ‘Student European Parliament’ (SEP), aims to encourage young people to perform their civic duty by going to the polls. As a first step, a sociological survey was conducted to assess the seriousness of young people’s lack of motivation. According to the survey, just 21% of first-time voters are “sure” to vote, with another 13% “almost sure” to do so. But the poll also revealed that young Slovaks are more eager to vote in the presidential and general elections. 

The project will try to boost turnout by engaging youngsters via innovative intiatives. Primary among these is a project carried out by the Department of Political Sciences at the University of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, which is preparing a quiz competition on EU issues for high-school graduates. University students from around the country will take part in simulated meetings of European Parliament committees. A resolution produced as a result of this will be handed over to Slovak MEPs. 

Young people are important multipliers as they are eager to discuss topics with families and friends, political scientists believe, arguing that each young voter could potentially have the capacity to influence three to four other people. Moreover, according to experts, those reluctant to vote cite lack of knowledge of the parties’ political programmes. 

The sociological survey was carried out in January 2009, at which time most of the relevant Slovak parties had not yet finalised candidate lists or adopted their manifestos for the EU elections. 

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