Although this country is considered a representative democracy where elections—the benchmark of truly democratic societies—are free and fair, the system and the processes by which it is maintained should never be treated lightly.
Campaigns tend to be intense, even divisive, but the level of participation by eligible voters is moderate at best.
In the last general election in early September 2015, there were 1,092,279 eligible voters, according to data from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). That year, 734,792 people voted but 357,487 others chose not to exercise their franchise.
Their non-participation was not because of a lack of choices. That year a total of 127 candidates faced the polls for 17 different political parties and there were five independents.
While some would staunchly defend their right not to participate in the democratic process, there should be concern about this level of voter apathy. It may not solely be an indictment on the quality of parties and candidates but may also be an indicator of a need for greater voter awareness.
It could be that some citizens need to be reminded of the value of their vote and the fact that it is a right sought after in many parts of the world where people are denied the right to choose their governments or participate in any processes that determine their quality of life.
In fact, for centuries most citizens of T&T could not vote. Universal adult suffrage was not established here until 75 years ago.
Before that, as a British colony, this country was ruled through a pure, unelected Crown Colony system. Between 1925 and 1946 only men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30 could vote with the requirement of property ownership, income and social status as prerequisites.
A growing number of citizens were demanding political expression, however, and their dissatisfaction with the status quo contributed in some extent to the 1937 labour riots.
Universal suffrage was finally achieved in 1945. Every Trinidadian and Tobagonian man and woman, 21 years and over was finally free to vote without restrictions, regardless of wealth, property ownership, income, gender, social status or race.
The 1976 Republican Constitution extended the franchise and since then there has been a requirement for everyone 18 years and over to be listed on the EBC list of registered electors to participate in the electoral democratic process.
These facts may not be known to the hundreds of thousands who do not appreciate the value of their votes and routinely opt out of the democratic process.
Of concern should be the consistently low turnout of young voters, who are in effect not exercising their right to determine their future.
Every non-participating member of T&T’s electorate needs to be reminded that in any free society it is the people individually as citizens who can bring about true change.
August 10 is the opportunity to exercise that very valuable right.