Active abstentionism: an oxymoron?

An alternative angle of analysis about the results of the Italian general elections.


March 4, 2018 – 73% of the Italian voters participated in the general election, to renew the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate for the XVIII legislature, in which no party exceeded the 32.6% of votes obtained by the Movimento 5stelle.
Abstainers are an outstanding protagonist of this election, a growing phenomenon in the last years and particularly significant in Italy where, until the 70s, the 90% of population used to take part actively. Their set is not homogeneous and it is possible to identify very different categories.
Obviously, there are those who cannot vote anymore due to illness or aging. However, apart from this physiological factor, many are disillusioned, disappointed, disgusted or angry with respect to politics and politicians. They are not simply those who are not satisfied by the existent options or are hesitant. Indeed, the vast majority of this group is now completely apathetic and the worrying aspect is that it is composed by many young people with less than 25 years.
Being aware of it, the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella solicited citizens not to sit apart, but to assume their responsibility towards the national community, recalling the civil duty to vote expressed in article 48 of the Italian Constitution. According to such interpretation, the vote is not only a right, but also a duty.
Nevertheless, it is important to stress the fact that it is exclusively a moral duty, allowing people to abstain as decided when was abrogated the article 115 of the T.U. containing sanctions for those who did not vote. Starting from this reform, a new practice developed giving citizens the possibility to still participate in the election, without expressing a preference to support a party or a politician and avoiding the use of the white card. It is called active abstentionism or motivated refusal of the ballot paper and is a form of peaceful protest in which those who do not feel represented or do not ideologically agree with the system of government can manifest their dissent and express their ideas.

The procedure is quite simple. Once arrived in the electoral site and endorsed the ballot, the abstainer has to refuse the card (not touching it in order not to invalid it) and to ascertain that the president or the scrutineer place on record the choice of not voting and the eventual declaration. For example, Mario Staderini, ex secretary of the Radicals, started a campaign to encourage citizens to actively abstain, declaring unconstitutional the Rosatellum bis, the new electoral law, because in his opinion it does not allow a free, equal and relevant vote, as guaranteed by article 48 of the Italian Constitution, by European Convention on Human Rights and by the International Pact on Civic and Political Rights. A more extreme position is taken by the anarchist movement, famous for its historical refusal to vote and to compromise with the government. In fact, opposing to every form of coercion and dominium, many of them criticize the delegation of power through representative democracy and object to the confusion between the sporadic act of voting and a meaningful participation of people in the decisional process of everyday politics. Thus, they define their practice revolutionary abstentionism͟, shedding light on the fact that they are not neglecting to take part in politics, meant as the art and practice of taking care of the collectivity by the community itself. Conversely, in this way they affirm to try doing their best within the limitations imposed by the system, by adding to the critiques of the pars destruens also suggestions for the improvement and by promoting alternative forms of active participation. In this perspective, the apparent paradox of an active not-action is reversed: in both the examples it is required an effort to acknowledge the situation, decide to refuse it and take an unconventional action that is more challenging than the normal act of vote. Of course, this does not mean that the elections are necessarily an evil as the writer David Van Reybrouck sustains, orthat people should abstain a priori, because it would be a biased and narrow position. In the same way, however, it is important not to demonize the abstention, in particular when it is a deliberate choice with the willingness to participate in a different way, coherent to personal ideas, principles and motivations.  As Antonio Gramsci wrote: ͞Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life”.

Cartoon image
Source: L’Espresso
Author: Altan

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